PENSACOLA — "Blessed" is the only word Kat Venettozzi could muster up following nearly one hour of flight time with U.S. Navy Blue Angel No. 7 Lt. Cary Rickoff.
Venettozzi, a Pensacola native and Tate High School teacher, said she's spent her entire life watching the boys in blue fly each year at the Pensacola Beach Airshow. Never did she imagine, however, they would one day select her to experience the flight first-hand.
"I'm Pensacola's Key Influencer," Venettozzi said Thursday. "I was nominated for it and then I had to fill out a bio and go through a selection committee. I found out I was selected in June. It's humbling and a blessing all at the same time."
Key Influencer riders are selected from people in the community who “help shape attitudes and opinions of youth” in Northwest Florida. The Blue Angels used to select two riders each year from Pensacola to participate in the demo flight, but dropped it down to one rider this year.
Venettozzi was selected not only for her seven-year career teaching debate and humanities, but also for coaching high school boys soccer in addition to several other kids sports leagues in the city.
"I was not planning on being a teacher," Venettozzi said. "I went to school for art and business. I just happened upon a job in teaching. I wasn't planning on staying but seven years later, here I am. I stayed because I have the best students. I teach at a great school."
There were spotty showers all leading up to Venettozzi's flight Thursday morning, as Petty Officer Second Class Kyle Wood gave pre-flight instructions. Venettozzi said she was anxious and excited leading up to the flight.
It was just seconds before Venettozzi headed to the tarmac, after learning all the tips and tricks on how to avoid passing out during flight, that the rain cleared and a large rainbow stretched across the flightline.
Rickoff, who goes by the call sign Chewie because he's "tall and hairy," flew Venettozzi straight through the rainbow all while pushing 4 Gs.
"I had to remind myself that these are the best in the business and I was in good hands," Venettozzi said. "They were so professional ... and he kept asking if I had any questions. The flight was beautiful. I grew up on the Gulf Coast, but to see it at that perspective was unbelievable."
Rickoff, who did not get sick or pass out during her flight, pushed an impressive 7.2 Gs.
Thursday's flight was the kick-off to the Pensacola Beach Airshow, which takes place Saturday. The event is hosted by the Santa Rosa Island Authority.