'Taking off is optional. Landing on your dreams is mandatory'
NORTH AURORA, Ill. (WLS) -- A Latina pilot from North Aurora is soaring to new heights.
Perseverance, ambition and the desire to live have helped Jacqueline Ruiz succeed, making her one of a small group of Latina pilots in the country.
According to 2019 data from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Latina pilots comprised of about 1% of the estimated 7% of all certified female pilots in the United States.
"One day I just said I am going to become a pilot," said Ruiz as she stood outside her Piper Arrow plane at the Aurora Municipal Airport.
Ruiz is sky-high now but her flight to the top came with challenges.
She immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she was 14 years old, learning English by reading labels on shampoo bottles.
Years later, Ruiz said she found her passion for flying while with her husband at a hot air balloon festival.
"There was something that shifted inside of me with that flight, flying without any doors and I was 3,000 feet in the air, closer to heaven," recalled Ruiz.
Soon after, she started taking aviation classes.
"I was looking around and didn't see a lot of women so I made up a word...pilot + Latina = Pilotina," she said. "So I started calling myself Pilotina."
But there was turbulence along the way, including two bouts of cancer.
"I'm a cancer survivor and for me it was like I just wanted to live and transcend and do all the things that I ever dreamed of and the things that would come to me as an inspiration," she said. "I wanted to land on those dreams and I'm like - I have no time to waste."
In April, Jackie celebrated her 40th birthday with a special flyover.
"This is a Piper Arrow," Ruiz said of her plane. "We took it 1,400 nautical miles all around the United States and we basically delivered 400 teddy bears for my 40th birthday this past April.
The teddy bear is symbolic for Ruiz.
"I used to fly with a teddy bear," she said. "That was basically my way to comfort myself when I was doing my solo flights and cross-country flights."
Ruiz is also the founder of the organization Latinas in Aviation - trailblazing a path for others.
"Taking off is optional," said Ruiz. " Landing on your dreams is mandatory."
Ruiz is also launching her newest book "Latinas in Aviation Vol. III."
The third edition is the largest volume to date. In it she features 26 women. "That tells me that the word is getting around," Ruiz said in a release. "The Federal Aviation Administration reached out to us to work and collaborate with us on different events and purchased books. We have given over $7,500 in scholarships. Personally, as a founder of the brand, it just makes me proud that my vision, my dream is making such an amazing impact."
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the College Park aviation Museum and Airport in Maryland will honor Latinas in aviation at an event on Saturday. Pilots from her book, including Ruiz, will fly into the College Park Airport and share their unique experiences and passion for aviation.