US Women's National Championship

U.S. Women’s National Championships Information and Results

Competitors prepare for launch at the recent Women's World Championships at Birstonas, Lithuania. Photo courtesy Maury Sullivan.

US Women’s Nationals: Its Time Has Come By Maury Sullivan

During this year’s Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, sixteen women will stand apart in a competition all their own. The Balloon Fiesta will play host to the first-ever stand-alone Women’s National Hot Air Balloon Championships, sanctioned by the Balloon Federation of America (BFA). The Championship is open to all female US citizens belonging to the BFA and holding a 2016 Hot Air Balloon Division competition card.  Participants register both with Balloon Fiesta and the BFA. Many still ask why the ladies need a separate championship since they can obviously compete on a level equal with the men. That’s an easy one to answer. It’s all about growing the sport. It’s the same reason there is a Women’s World and Junior World Championship.  Offering competitive opportunities to these sub groups provides more opportunities for pilots to become involved in elite-level competition in a less intimidating atmosphere with many of their peers in similar situations. The BFA first conceived the women’s championship in 1999 in the hope that a women’s event would encourage more female pilots to enter the sport of competitive hot air ballooning.  Under the rules, women competitors would fly in the US Nationals along with their male counterparts, competing in the same tasks and scored in the same manner. The women, however, would receive two scores for each task – their National Championship score and a score comparing them only against the other female competitors. At the end of the week’s competition, the second set of scores would determine the first Women’s Champion. The 1999 event had seven women in a total field of fifty-four pilots. At week’s end Cheri White was recognized as the first US Women’s Champion, but after 1999 the Women’s Championships was not held again.  Cheri – perhaps better known at Balloon Fiesta as a two-time America’s Challenge gas balloon race champion – will be one of the competitors in this year’s Women’s Nationals and certainly aims to defend her seventeen-year-old title.

Pre-launch strategy session. Photo courtesy Maury Sullivan
U.S Women's National
Hot Air Balloon Championships
Competitors
Sactioned by the Balloon Federation of America
  • Jeanne Anson
  • Charity Blanchard
  • Myia Danley
  • Barbara Fricke
  • Sandy Graham
  • Elizabeth Johnson
  • Kelli Keller
  • Janet Lutkus
  • Kimberly Magee
  • Susan Oldenburg
  • Shannon Rote
  • Meg Skelton
  • Elisa Trillanes
  • Victoria Vertrees
  • Peggy Watson-Mienke
  • Cheri White

The resurrection of a women’s national title reflects the growing popularity of women’s competitions around the world. Five ladies represented the US in the first Women’s World Championship in Leszno, Poland in 2014: Susan Stamats, Debby Young, Kelli Cook, Meg Skelton and Christine Bertsch.  This event proved to be a real game changer for the women.  They arrived in Poland as five individuals and developed into a team communicating on the ground and in the air passing along information enabling each to perform to their individual best.  By the end of the event a true metamorphosis had occurred.  The ladies, their crew and their team managers, Andy Baird and Maury Sullivan, had learned a lot about camaraderie, flying in the rain and good vodka. This July, a five-member American women’s team descended on Birstonas, Lithuania for the second Women’s World Championship.  The team was led by defending (albeit 17 years ago!) U.S. National Champion Cheri White, who proved to be a formidable competitor, bringing a third-place finish home to the United States.  The team was rounded out by Kimberly Magee, Meg Skelton, Elisa Trillanes (from Albuquerque), and Myia Danley.

On the Women's Worlds podium, the US's Cheri White (at right) with runner-up Ann Herdewyn of Belgium and champion Nicola Scaife from Australia. Photo courtesy Maury Sullivan.

While the plans for the US Women’s Nationals in Albuquerque do not include flying in the rain, they do include some unique challenges.  The objective of the BFA Hot Air Competition Division (HACD) and Balloon Fiesta is to add a new dimension that features women in the sport of hot air ballooning.  The dates of the Championship overlap Balloon Fiesta Saturday through Wednesday causing challenges of congestion due to the large numbers of participating balloons.  The majority of the Championship will take place in the Rio Rancho area.  This is the area traditionally used by Albuquerque locals for their competitive events. It is our hope to utilize Balloon Fiesta Park when wind and other conditions permit for a final target in a string that will permit the ladies to demonstrate their skills to the large crowds at Balloon Fiesta Park.  We have even designed a special target in honor of the ladies.  No Championship events will launch from Balloon Fiesta Park.  In addition to Cheri White, the formidable field includes all four of the other members of the World team.  It also includes one of Cheri’s chief rivals from the America’s Challenge, three-time champion Barbara Fricke.  The competitors include rookies as well as veterans, and anything can happen when these skilled and talented women take to the skies.  Competition concludes on Wednesday morning and an awards ceremony is planned for 11 AM Thursday, October 6 at the Sid Cutter Pilots’ Pavilion.