Young guns current: Abigail Sunderland and the kid who flew to Space

Posted: Jun 12, 2010 01:10 am EDT

I gazed out the window of the airport transfer bus when my mother, working in a nearby restaurant, rushed onboard with a newspaper in hand. "Read this," she pleaded, "please don't go."

The article spoke of shootings, bombings and curfews at my upcoming destination: Beirut, Lebanon. Mom got the clip from her co-workers, urging her to prevent me from leaving. "I have to go mom," I said, "don't worry I'll be fine." She took my hand and kissed it, "please be very, very careful," she said.

I don't know who was bravest at that moment: she -possibly facing the loss of her child - or I, following my heart at the tender age of 17.

Seven dreams

Already the previous year I had traveled to Hungary in a mission to free a young friend locked up behind the iron curtain of Communism. My first solo train ride to Europe (without money to spend on a hotel) took place the very first week I turned 15.

A single mother; at age 29 my mother had fled Czechoslovakia to Sweden with me and my one-year old baby brother. Her journey had been out of desperation. I was the adventurous one; and knew it since age 9.

"I have seven dreams," I'd tell a friend in the refugee camp. "I want to see the ocean, the desert, the jungle, the highest mountain, and I want to die by an erupting volcano." I don't remember the other two anymore, but I recall placing the volcano last as I wanted to be so close to it I figured it would probably kill me.

Unselfish love

Lucky for me, my mother was a strong woman and her unselfish love shaped my destiny. We weren't rich, but we were free. I went on to realize all my dreams, and more. In my mid life today, I still fear little and find that I once again resent talks of age. I take on new knowledge, sports and challenges as if I was just beginning my life, and I've added one more wish to my dream-list: I want to go to Space, and I think I can.

Reading about Abby, Jordan and all the other kids roaming the world I smile. It could have been me.

The waxed mustache

"Child-neglect," fumed TV-host Geraldo Rivera at Abby's parents this morning. "Is Abby Sunderland the new Jessica Dubroff?" asked a blog shortly after falsely and sensationally declaring Abby dead.

Who are these people, I hiss between my teeth. "Geraldo you poser, 'braving' hurricanes with your wax mustache in the shelter of the camera crew and then running home to your young wife number 4 - how dare you!" I fret to myself.

Comparing Abby to Jessica Dubroff is plain cruel. Jessica was a 7-year-old who died when her Cessna crashed after take-off killing all on board: Dubroff, her father and her flight instructor. She wasn't even flying it.

Daniel, 12: "Instead of crime you see clouds"

Where Dubroff could well have been pushed to her record attempt by her dad, Daniel Shanklin began taking private flying lessons at age 7 as a gift from his grandfather who thought it would help him deal with his parents' divorce the year before. Plus he wanted the boy to be able to take over in case anything happened to him when he was flying a plane.

Five years later at age 12, the already veteran pilot Daniel told New York Times: "[When flying] I'm just looking down at the world, and it seems a lot better than it does down here. Instead of seeing somebody rob somebody -- like on TV -- you see the farms and trees and parks and clouds."

Jordan Romero just summited Everest with flying colors at age 13; a black eye to all the bearded tough guys up there. Before him, two young Sherpani sisters held the record - no parents in sight. Johnny Strange climbed the Seven Summits at age 17 last year with his dad. This past May, Johnny was caught car-surfing on the roof of a white BMW SUV along Pacific Coast Highway - with a girlfriend at the wheel.

Before jumping to conclusions, we should accept that there is a difference between people born with the "eagle-gene" and media hungry parents. One should not be judged by the other.

Zac: "They could have easily said no." Abby, "Dont judge by age."

As for Abby Sunderland, she knew she wanted to sail solo when she was 13 and got out as many times as she could on her own, she told ExplorersWeb. Her older brother Zac was her final inspiration to sail around the world when he did it in 2008-09 at age 16/17.

Asking him about the role that their parents played in their round-the-world trips, Zac said, We were raised on the ocean. They have faith in us and gave us the opportunity. They could have easily said no, but they didnt and it is great.

Dad Laurence said parents should be involved in what their children do, and that he wants his children to become functional adults and not big kids.

If she could give advice to other teens, Abby told ExplorersWeb:

Set big goals, have high expectations of yourself and go for it. Even if you are thirteen, or fourteen, like Laura Dekker. Dont judge by age. Laura has the support of her parents but was stopped by the [Dutch] government. The physiologist that evaluated her doesnt know anything about sailing.

When does childhood end, anyway

Fear is taking over our souls and we protect our "assets" with increasing frenzy. This includes our spouses and offspring. In US, the new health law allows "adult children" to stay on their parents' health plan until age 26.

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had just turned 27 when he in 1961 became the first human in outer space and the first to orbit the Earth. In 2006, more than 435,000 babies were born to US teens between 15 and 19 years. When exactly did we become kids at 26?

I know that my moment in time is painfully short. It wasn't always easy, but thanks to my mother I could begin it early, and plan to make it rock to the very last day.

Editorial by ExWeb co-founder Tina Sjogren, 51, who scaled Everest, sailed the Atlantic, skied to both Poles, crossed the rain forest of Borneo, watched an active volcano in Hawaii and emigrated to America shortly before her mother's death in 2001.

#Opinion #topstory

"I see Earth! It's so beautiful!" On April 12, 1961, at age 27, Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space, and these were his first words. Yuri took a big risk. The rocket was far from ready and his friends urged him to wait. But the race was on and time was up. When he stepped into the space craft, Yuri knew that chances were pretty big that this could be his last step on Earth. Instead, he made history.
Image by Public library courtesy public library
Parents should be involved in what their children do, and this one wants his children to become functional adults and not big kids. Brother Zac, Abby and Dad Laurence at the V&A; Waterfront Marina, Cape Town, South Africa in May (click all images to enlarge).
Image by courtesy, SOURCE
When is time to dare the jump, and when to put that skateboard down? Niece "Loppan" and ExWeb co-founder Tom Sjogren in Death Valley, US, last week. It's 30 years between the two.
Image by Tina Sjogren courtesy ExplorersWeb, SOURCE
"Age is only in our mind" says Tina, right in image with Loppan (left) at Universal Studios in LA last week.
Image by Thomas Sjogren courtesy ExplorersWeb, SOURCE

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