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Round-the-world flight for a cure begins in Clarksville

South Boston News
CarolAnn Garratt checks her single-engine craft prior to take-off at the Lake Country Regional Airport. Moments later she was aloft, beginning her third round-the-world flight. (Alta LeCompte photos) / April 27, 2011
A quick embrace with her brother Peter John Garratt, a few minutes warming up her single-engine Mooney 203, and CarolAnn Garratt was airborne Easter morning at Lake Country Regional Airport.

She was bound for Boston on her third round-the-world flight.

On her 2008 trip around the world, Garratt and co-pilot Carol Foy smashed the speed record for a light, single-engine plane that had stood for 20 years. They completed the 24,000-mile trip in 8 days, 12 hours, and 20 minutes.

“Amelia Earhart has nothing on this lady,” Mike Denton, manager of Lake Country Regional Airport, said.

Garratt’s flight mission is to raise money to find a cure for ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

ALS claimed the life of her mother, Marie, of Clarksville in 2002.

To date she has raised $328,000. She pays all her own expenses so that 100 percent of the proceeds of her personal appearances and book sales can go to research.

As her plane disappeared into the brilliant blue sky, Peter, who lives in Merifield Acres, said the trip will cost his sister $50,000 to $70,000.

This year Garratt will make frequent stops to give presentations and sell her books about her previous experiences as an earth rounder. All proceeds will go to the ALS Therapy Development Institute in Boston.

“I start my presentations by saying it’s been 70 years since Lou Gehrig retired from baseball, and we’re no closer to a cure today than we were then,” she said in an earlier phone interview.

This Easter, however, she is flying into Boston for an update from the institute with hope in her heart.

During her visit last year she learned that the institute had identified an “immune system response not previously known to be associated with the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.”

Research offers hope

She said that research has demonstrated the effectiveness of the drug on mice and clinical trials are expected to begin soon.

“In three to five years we could have a treatment,” Garratt said.

Other promising approaches also are investigation, she said.

Garratt, however, didn’t sugar-coat her assessment of progress in the battle to conquer ALS.

The motor neuron disease tends to strike people between age 40 and 70, and causes brain and spinal cord degeneration leading to muscle atrophy and death within a few years, she explained.

Making the disease even more tragic is that typical ALS patients die young, leaving behind young families.

“They never see them graduate, never see them marry. It’s just really tough on the whole family,” she said.

Bound for the Azores

Garratt was scheduled to leave Boston yesterday morning and continue on to Newfoundland. From there she would cross the Atlantic to the Azores in 71/2 hours. She chose the Azores, where she will spend a week, “just because I’ve never been there.”

The trip around the world will take about a year, including time spent on land. She will not have a co-pilot, but friends will fly some legs with her.

In addition to raising more money for ALS research, Garratt plans to enjoy the ride and her time on land. She will spend the summer in Europe. She will visit with a network of friends in faraway places, many of them earth rounders themselves.

Family of flyers

Garratt has been flying since her teen years.

Her father, Richard, flew. Garratt and her brothers took lessons in the ’70s in Pennsylvania where the family lived.

“Three of us ended up liking it and became pilots,” she said.

The Garratts, originally from England, moved from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin just in time for CarolAnn to start college.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and an MBA at the University of Iowa. Later she studied psychology and organizational development at LaSalle University, where she received a master of arts degree.

She was a general manager for a Fortune 400 company that manufactured industrial equipment.

Garratt described herself as “pretty practical and logical.”

“I’m retired from manufacturing engineering,” she said. “We made stuff for the oilfield, agricultural, and airline industries.”

Returning to the skies

While she was working and moving around for business, Garratt gave flying a rest. In 1996 she made a New Year’s resolution to resume.

She relies on old-style instruments and can set speed records because she prepares methodically and travels very light.

In 1999 when her mother was diagnosed, she purchased a plane so that she could visit her parents in Merifield Acres once a month, which she continued to do until her mother died in 2002.

Her first around the world flight came as something of a surprise to Garratt. In 2003 her father “felt a need to reunite with his sister in New Zealand.”

At first she thought they would take a commercial flight. Then she read an article about a Mooney flying from the U.S. to Australia, so she planned to take her own plane and continue around the world. Her father flew commercial.

“I got them reunited and then flew to Australia,” she said.

Pilot turns author

“What I hadn’t planned was to write a book,” she said.

As her 2003 journey progressed, more and more pilots read her posts online and encouraged her to turn them into a book.

The result was “Upon Silver Wings: Global Adventure in a Small Plane.” The second book, following her 2008 trip, is “Upon Silver Wings II: World-Record Adventure.”

“All the money goes straight to ALS research,” she said.

ALS research is not the only endeavor she supports by flying.

Garratt logs more than 400 hours a year, including flying the sick and needy with Angel Flights.

She has flown more than 360 Young Eagles flights for children, including 24 children overseas during her first world-round trip.

Garratt also has ensured the future of flight is not lost by establishing an endowed scholarship fund in her brother Andy’s memory. The fund is dedicated to assisting youth in paying for EAA AirAcademy course fees.

“Andy was a plane buff since the time he could say the word ‘airplane.’ He could tell you anything about any plane and really enjoyed flying,” Garratt said. “Because he was so into aviation, I wanted to give the opportunity to kids to pursue their dreams, too.”

Garratt has lived her dreams on land and in the air. Now she is circling the earth in search of her third book and the opportunity to add to her fund for ALS research.

She aims high: $1 million.

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