Natasha Stanke

Natasha Stanke, DVM, DACVS-SA, Divemaster, Commercial Pilot
Born and raised in Santa Fe, NM, baby-sister to one older brother in family with numerous cousins, my competitive drive developed naturally. Despite my proximity to ballooing it would be many years before I engaged in the sport. As a national level volleyball player and the first female pole-vaulter in my high-school I learned about the importance of teamwork and boldly breaking barriers. I then focused my competitive efforts to academics, achieving my bachelor’s and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees at the University of California, Davis. In my limited free-time I parlayed my passion for oceanography into a side-career as a Divemaster. I learned from and then helped instruct with the UCDavis SCUBA program. In the last of my free summers during vet school, I worked as a Divemaster for the Boy Scoutsof America at their Florida Sea Base High Adventure Camp. This idyllic job was not only blissful diving,but a gratifying opportunity to promote dive safety and ocean preservation to the future generation. The following years involved many cross-country moves as I achieved advanced training in veterinary surgery. As I honed my skills, I had the pleasure of living and working in Boston, MA, San Diego, CA, and Tampa, FL. I became board-certified in small animal veterinary surgery in 2015. I began my surgical career in Southeast Michigan before returning to positions in Tampa and San Diego. On a family visit home in 2017, I attended the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta on a whim. At a point in my career where I finally had time and finances to pursue a life outside of the hospital, standing in the middle of the launch field, I verbalized, “I think I want to fly these things.” Encouraged by my father, I spoke with pilots who pointed me in the direction of an instructor. I began my initial training with Steve Stokoe in Tampa, but was delayed during my time in San Diego. I enjoyed rare moments of ballooning exposure by crewing and flying with Steve at Balloon Fiesta 2018 and 2019. One midweek morning, I witnessed competitive pilots coming into the target and I knew instantly that this was my place within the sport. Recommitting to pursing my private certificate, I attended AAAA Ground School February 2020, days before travel and group gatherings came to an abrupt halt. In the months following, my job and priorities changed. I decided to move home to New Mexico to be with family and fly; working to live rather than living to work. I completed my training with Tom Kious and attained my private pilot certificate on my 38 th birthday in April 2021. With the help and guidance of experienced competitive pilots, an experienced and brave navigator, and my crew, I competed in my first event with just 6 PIC hours. I did surprisingly well and. I was hooked! Events with Top Gun Competitive Ballooning became the highlight of each month. My sole focus (around veterinary surgery duties) throughout the next two years was practicing, learning, and honing my competitive skills to compete at a national level event. I was unbelievably fortunate to experience national level competition as a navigator for Cheri White. She educated me on the history of female competition and encouraged me to adjust my goals to world- level. Encouraged by her and my Albuquerque ballooning community, I have since flown in Top Gun Events (9 th overall and Rookie of the Year 2021), US Women’s Nationals 2022 (9 th place), US Nationals (16 th overall and Rookie of the Year 2023), and US Women’s Nationals 2023 (2 nd place). I attained my commercial pilot certificate, on my 41 st birthday in April 2023, just because I wanted to satisfy tighter flying requirements to improve my competitive success. Throughout my time in ballooning, I have enjoyed sharing my love of flight, education, and competition by participating in the AAAA Education committee, AAAA Safety Seminars, and AAAA Ground Schools, and Top Gun Board.  I was inspired by the women who initiated our US Women’s Championship, to promote and build this event to facilitate success of our competitors on a world scale. I have since successfully proposed HACD world-qualification rule changes that will enhance the level of our women’s competition. Since first learning of and working with the HACD Board, I longed to become more involved. As detailed above, I am passionate about competitive ballooning and doing whatever I can to build the sport and improve our competitor’s success.
Thank you for your consideration.

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