Q&A with Emma Percy: Young female pilot defies status quo in aviation

Pilot Emma Percy, 18, poses by her 1973 Bonanza V35, the plane she trains in.

Q: Where did your interest in aviation come from?

A: My dad does fly and I think that’s really what got me started with flying, you know just kind of being interested in that part of his life. So, he got me my first lesson (at Shelby County Airport). And after I took that first lesson, I was kind of hooked on it. It took me about a year of training to get my private pilot’s license which is the first license.

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Earth Day Purpose and Celebrations

Earth Day comes around every year on April 22 but the history and idea behind the day is not commonly discussed. The concept for Earth Day was for the nation to focus on the environment for one day. Founder Gaylord Nelson was a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. After seeing the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara and being ruled by the student anti-war movement, he related the public needed to be aware of the air and water pollution they were contributing.  Nelson worked until the next year

Earth Day Network states that “on April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies.” Learn more about Earth Day.

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Q&A about “Cultural Shock.”

Q & A with Ruth Blackburn

  1. Can you introduce yourself? What’s your name? Hometown? Major?

My name is Ruth Blackburn. I am a junior from Birmingham, Alabama. My major is Foods and Nutrition with an Art minor.

  1. When people mention Asia or Asian, what is your first thought?

I think of the cultural differences between Asia and America. My best friend went to China for 6 weeks and I think of the stories of squatty potties and riding bikes all around the cities. I once read that middle-aged men in Asia are at a very high risk of suicide because of pressure to succeed and do well in the workplace.

  1. What makes you most proud to be an American?

The kindness that people show to each other even when they are strangers and do not know each other.

  1. What do you think about “Culture Shock”?

I have never been affected by culture shock very much when I go to different countries. I think I am very easy going so the differences between countries do not shock me or bother me that much and it takes a lot of effort for me to pick out the differences and things that bother me or that I like better about one country.

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Alabama adventures: Scuba diving at Dive Alabama

By Sydney Cromwell

When life is feeling stale and you need a break in your routine, the Magic City delivers. From 14,000 feet in the air to hundreds of feet under ground, we found the best adventures in the Birmingham area. This is part six in a six-part series.

Divers prepare for a swim at the Dive Alabama quarry.

Divers prepare for a swim at the Dive Alabama quarry.

Scuba Diving
Dive Alabama
100 Industrial Park Drive, Pelham
Entry: $27 ($24 for student divers)
Diver certification: $450
(205) 663-7428
divealabama.com

You don’t need a set of gills to experience life under the water’s surface. Learn to scuba dive and the world’s oceans are yours to explore.

Dive Alabama is situated on a former mining quarry for I-65. Miners hit a spring in 1973, which filled the 26-acre quarry with water that ranges from four to 140 feet in depth. The dive shop is the only one in the Birmingham area that offers on-site open diving instead of pool diving.

Stefanie Combs, the manager of Dive Alabama, said different quarry owners over the decades have sunk cars, sailboats and a school bus into the water to give divers obstacles to traverse. The water is also full of turtles, tiny freshwater jellyfish and fish, which will swim right up to divers – especially if food is involved.

“You get to see a lot underwater that you wouldn’t normally see, even snorkeling or swimming,” Combs said.

Through an online course and two weekends of diving with an instructor, anyone can become a certified scuba diver. That certification never expires and enables you to dive anywhere in the world, from the Caribbean to China’s underwater city. Combs said already-certified divers can dive freely at the quarry, rent equipment and take more advanced courses, including rescue and instructor training.

In October, an experienced diver died during a solo dive at the quarry. Despite this, Combs said scuba diving is very safe as long as divers know their limits and follow safe practices, such as diving with a buddy. So strap on a mask, tank and fins, and take the plunge.
“It’s just a different world. It’s very unique,” Combs said. “There’s nothing like it that I can think of.”

Alabama Adventures: Fencing at the Birmingham Fencing Club

By Sydney Cromwell

When life is feeling stale and you need a break in your routine, the Magic City delivers. From 14,000 feet in the air to hundreds of feet under ground, we found the best adventures in the Birmingham area. This is part five in a six-part series.

Youth fencers spar with each other during a class at Birmingham Fencing Club.

Youth fencers spar with each other during a class at Birmingham Fencing Club.

 

Fencing
Birmingham Fencing Club
1581 Montgomery Highway, Suite 109
Classes: $95 a month
Free fencing: the first Saturday of each month at 10:30 a.m.
(205) 823-4448
fencingclub.org

Can’t get enough of movie swordfights? Bring those scenes to life by learning to fence.

David Arias, the director of the Birmingham Fencing Club, said the fun of fencing is that it’s a physical workout that requires quick thinking and strategy. No two fencing matches are the same, so the sport is all about anticipating your opponent’s moves and knowing when to strike.

“I really love the strategy thinking parts of it,” Arias said. “It’s completely up to you to quickly analyze your opponent and come up with a strategy to win.”

Fencing has existed in the city “as long as Birmingham’s been here,” but the Fencing Club started in 1997 as a nonprofit. In December 1998, husband and wife Yuanjing Wang and Hongyun Sun immigrated from China and began coaching at the club. Both hold advanced fencing degrees, Wang is a Chinese National Foil Champion and Sun took 5th in fencing at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

“They’re really extraordinary. It’s kind of like getting Michael Jordan to come do your middle school basketball program,” Arias said.

Arias said the club makes fencing affordable, as students can use club equipment and take as many classes as they want for the monthly fee. Many choose to buy their own equipment and travel to competitions around the country, but others at the club simply pursue it as a hobby.

There are about 100 club members now, ranging from young children to senior citizens. Arias said the nature of fencing and safety equipment makes it almost impossible to get hurt, so fencers can focus only on their athleticism and strategy. Often, unexpected people develop a real talent for the sport.

“In competition, I’ve been beaten by an 11-year-old girl and I’ve been beaten by an 87-year-old man,” Arias said.

Alabama Adventures: Kayaking with the Birmingham Canoe Club

Club President Helen Todd kayaks a lake at Oak Mountain State Park.

By Sydney Cromwell

When life is feeling stale and you need a break in your routine, the Magic City delivers. From 14,000 feet in the air to hundreds of feet under ground, we found the best adventures in the Birmingham area. This is part four in a six-part series.

Kayaking
Birmingham Canoe Club
Meets the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m.
Homewood Library, 1721 Oxmoor Road
Dues: $20 per family annually
birminghamcanoeclub.org

Pick up a paddle and take on the rush of whitewater or the sweet calm of a placid river. The Birmingham Canoe Club organizes canoe and kayak trips for paddlers of every skill level.

Helen Todd, the club president, said the Canoe Club started in 1971 to “provide a community for people who want to learn more about paddle sports in general.” She started kayaking 16 years ago and is now one of over 120 active members.

“It’s a great hobby; it’s exciting. You meet new friends. It’s a different kind of way to get out and get outside,” Todd said.

The club adjusts its paddling locations with the seasons. Winter rains bring whitewater to Birmingham-area rivers, including club-owned property on the Mulberry River. In the summer, Todd said the club travels to south Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee to seek naturally occurring rapids.

There are classes in the summer to teach new paddlers about safety and technique, as well as February and March races on the Mulberry and Locust Fork rivers. Todd said the club is also able to rent out boats to people who do not have them.

Some members work their way up to kayaking on whitewater, while others stay quite happily on lakes and smoother rivers. The Canoe Club is all about simply enjoying a day on the water.

“If you’re comfortable in the water and you like being outdoors and you don’t mind camping, this would be a fun sport for you,” Todd said.

Alabama Adventures: Skydiving at Skydive Alabama

Skydiving

Writer Sydney Cromwell experiences a tandem skydive at the Cullman Regional Airport.


By Sydney Cromwell

When life is feeling stale and you need a break in your routine, the Magic City delivers. From 14,000 feet in the air to hundreds of feet under ground, we found the best adventures in the Birmingham area. This is part three in a six-part series.

Skydiving

Skydive Alabama
Cullman Regional Airport, 231 County Road 1360, Vinemont
Tandem jumps: $149-249
(256) 736-5553
skydivealabama.com

Skydiving is the classic thrill-seeker’s choice, and for good reason. Nothing can quite compare to dangling your feet out of a plane and feeling the excitement – and terror. Feel the cold wind on your face and the rush of adrenaline as your tandem skydiver launches you out the door and into free fall.

Though it seems like the most dangerous activity on this list, experienced skydivers will tell you that jumping out of a plane is safer than the drive to the airport. First-time divers are attached to a tandem instructor, who has made at least 500 successful jumps and taken a certification course. Both divers are connected by heavy-duty clips to main and reserve parachutes, which can be activated by an altitude-sensing computer if the divers are not able to pull the ripcord.

For first-timers, the instructors attached to their backs do most of the work from leaving the plane to landing safely at the airport drop zone. Your only responsibility is to maintain proper body position and enjoy the ride.

Divers exit the plane at 14,000 feet and experience about a minute of freefall. It’s an intense experience that clears your mind of everything except the feeling of your body accelerating to more than 120 miles per hour. At 5,000 feet the instructor pulls the parachute, and you get to gently float for about 10 minutes to reach the ground. You’ll be able to enjoy the landscape below you, including the Tennessee River and the distant skyline of Huntsville, before sliding into the landing.

Seeing the world from the sky can make you both exhilarated and surprisingly calm. So, are you bold enough to willingly jump out of a plane?

Alabama Adventures: Caving with the Birmingham Grotto

By Sydney Cromwell

When life is feeling stale and you need a break in your routine, the Magic City delivers. From 14,000 feet in the air to hundreds of feet under ground, we found the best adventures in the Birmingham area. This is part two in a six-part series.

Bradley Jones in Bryant Cave

Grotto member Bradley Jones explores Bryant Cave.

Caving
Birmingham Grotto
Meets second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m.
Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, 1214 81st St. S.
Dues: $15 per person or $20 per family annually
bhamgrotto.org

There’s no need to be scared of the dark; bring a headlamp and discover an exotic world deep under the Alabama soil. Many people will never see these caves, but the cavers of the Birmingham Grotto are dedicated both to exploring them and preserving them for the future.

Fennigan Spencer, the Grotto president, said the Tennessee-Alabama-Georgia region is rich with thousands of caves that people flock to from across the world. These caves contain their own fragile ecosystems of shimmering stalactites, bats, salamanders and fish that will never see daylight.

The Grotto is part of the National Speleological Society – from which we get the word “spelunking” – and was created in 1958. There are now around 100 members who attend meetings and take part in group trips. The Grotto organizes one large caving trip per month, with members planning smaller trips all the time.

“A grotto is more about the fellowship than anything,” Spencer said. “In a sense it’s a family that works together.”

There are different caves to suit different tastes: vertical caves that require rappelling, tight spaces to squeeze through, easy walking or crawling caves and underwater pools large enough to swim or float a raft. Spencer emphasized that personal fears should not get in the way; he’s a lifelong caver despite being both claustrophobic and scared of heights.

There is an element of danger to caving, which is why Spencer recommends joining the Grotto. Members have access to proper equipment and training, as well as experienced friends to help them find the safest – and most beautiful – paths through a cave.

“The thing about a cave – especially the extreme ones but all of them, really – from the moment you walk in to the moment you leave, you think of nothing else but caving,” Spencer said. “Because if you don’t think about that next step and only that next step, you’re going to get hurt.”

Since the Grotto keeps most of its locations secret as part of its conservation efforts, cavers who go it alone will also never see many of the caverns right under their feet. It’s a mental and physical challenge, but venturing into a hole in the ground can be a rewarding experience for those who give it a try.