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Laurie Chavez talking to Balloon Fiesta staff as her crew waits to launch in the air on Sunday, Oct. 2 at Balloon Fiesta Park.

Balloon pilot carries on family tradition at Balloon Fiesta

Laurie Chavez has been involved with the International Balloon Fiesta since childhood. A pilot at the 50th Fiesta this year, she and her family have been participating since it began back in 1972, joining due to connections with Sid Cutter, one of the founding members of the Fiesta. Now, she carries on the family legacy as pilot of balloon “Jesse’s Girl Too.”

“(Sid Cutter) was a military fighter, a fighter pilot and also one of the first balloon pilots in the state of New Mexico. And my grandfather knew him from the Air Force,” Chavez said. “The first two Balloon Fiesta(s), (my grandfather) was crew. And then, by the third Balloon Fiesta, he had gone in with two other buddies, and they bought a balloon. So that was how he got into ballooning.”

Chavez and her family have passed down ballooning through the generations: first her grandfather, then her aunt and, most recently, herself.

“I got my 10th pilot badge this year. And my aunt before me, she's the one who taught me how to fly. She flew 40 fiestas,” Chavez said. “ And then her dad before her was in Fiesta — he started flying in ‘74.”

However, Chavez and her family do not only participate with their pilot status. Other family members continue the legacy through crewing — duties for this include helping unpack the balloon and tracking it through the air midflight.

“For us, it's always been family. My husband crews now because he married me. We go ballooning, and that's what you do,” Chavez said.

While Chavez’s husband has yet to learn how to pilot, she hopes to pass the art of flying on to the next generation in her family, whether it be to her kids or to her nieces and nephews.

“Both of my nieces have expressed interest in wanting to do it, but neither one of them are in a position right now to do it. My daughter wanted to do it. She's 17 now, but I showed her some of the regulations and stuff you have to learn. And she's like, ‘I don't know,’” Chavez said.  “I just want somebody in that generation. I don't care if it's my kids, but I want one of my nieces and nephews or one of my kids. Even if I’m not the one to teach them.”

For Chavez, family is really what makes the Balloon Fiesta fantastic and one of the best parts of her year because everyone visits and spends time together.

“It's amazing every year, since it's such a family thing. We have family that comes every year and then friends of the family, people that we've been ballooning with our entire lives come from Hawaii every year. They bring their family, and their great-grandkids are here now. It's better than Christmas,” Chavez said.

Elizabeth Secor is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @esecor2003

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