Steamboat Springs Separated with six kids to raise, Doris Grove had squat for free time until a series of strokes confined her to a bed and threatened her life.
While recovering, she decided should she be fortunate enough to receive an extension on Earth, the years would be spent developing a relationship between her and a love she met briefly when she was young.
"I had taken rides when I was 14, and I liked the feeling of being in the air," Grove said. "After I got better, I wanted to learn to fly."
So minutes after she deposited her youngest child on a bus to kindergarten, Grove called the local airport to set up an appointment for flight instructions.
"The man told me he wouldn't teach me to fly because I was a woman," Grove said. "So I went down to Florida where my mother lived, and the man I spoke to there slammed his hand down on the counter and said, 'I'm not teaching another woman to fly.'"
Grove didn't quit. She had made an inner promise to do something self-satisfying in her life. She loved her kids and was a devoted mother, but there was still a void she needed to fill, so she returned home and enrolled in flight school at Penn State University in State College, Pa., and she learned to fly.
"I can't say I feel like a bird, but when you're up there it's so beautiful," Grove said. "You get up there and you get to be free."
Grove first learned on smaller power planes ones commonly seen in the sky but attention and interest quickly shifted to sailplanes aircrafts with one or two seats and a smaller engine. She joined the Soar Club in State College and began an unexpected journey toward soaring greatness.
Soaring is unlike commercial flying in that altitude, distance and ultimate success of a flight depends almost entirely on unpredictable and often uncooperative weather conditions. The engines on a sailplane are used sometimes used for takeoff and minimal altitude maintenance. The purpose isn't in transporting cargo. A pilot soars to see who wins he or she or nature.
"The activity doesn't require muscle," fellow pilot Tom Knauff said. "It's all intellectual. It's been compared to a chess game, but you don't know where the squares are."
Knauff was also a member of the Soar Club with Grove, but in the mid-1970s, he expressed interest in leaving to build his own glider port. When he asked several of his male friends to accompany him to start the business, no one obliged, but Grove volunteered her services.
"Tom said, 'But you're a woman,'" Grove said, remembering back. "I said, 'That's right, but I'm also a pilot.'"
In 1975, they started the Ridge Soaring Glider Port in Julian, Pa., about 16 miles from State College in the Allegheny Mountains, providing a beautiful backdrop and an optimum location to soar. Shortly afterward, in 1976, Grove received her instructor's rating to compliment her commercial license.
"That way I was more valuable. I didn't just do the dishes," she said with a smile.
Knauff said many people take to soaring but the initial enthusiasm wears away. That wasn't the case with Grove. She continued to fly and continued to improve. Like in Girl or Boy Scouts, pilots receive badges for accomplishing certain feats in soaring. First Grove flew 50 kilometers, then 300 and 500. She added altitude, reaching heights of 3,000, 6,000 and 9,000 feet.
"I did those to get out and fly and better myself," she said. "There was enough excitement in me to fly longer distances. I wanted to see more of the Earth, go farther and farther."
So one day, she didn't know the specific date, Grove became the first woman in world history the 24th pilot overall to record a flight of more than 1,000 kilometers, roughly 620 miles. The flight took about 11 1/2 hours.
"It seemed like I was out there for like five," she said. "I was busy looking around. When you're in the plane all by yourself you don't think about anything. The phone doesn't ring. No one yells at you. You're out there in space. It's hard to describe."
But one thing's for sure, "Setting a world record was easier than having six children," Grove laughed.
Grove holds several world records, including the longest flight by a woman 1,127 kilometers, or 726 miles set in 1983.
Between her and Knauff (the couple married in 1997 after working together for more than 20 years), they hold 75 national records. Knauff holds six world records, but Grove was the first to fly more than 1,000 kilometers and may be the more ruthless pilot between the two.
Knauff and friend Alan Northcutt said world-renowned pilots such as Karl Striedieck have told Grove to slow down.
"She's very sweet and mild-mannered," Northcutt said. "In the air, she's a very aggressive aviator."
The aggressiveness certainly appears to be an aerial-only trait. Born in Craig, Grove struggled to keep the tears away when talking about returning to her hometown area, while out in Steamboat for The Motorglider National Championships held June 9-20 at the town airport.
"I can't believe we had a contest back here," Grove said. "It's a thrill to be here."
She took June 14 off and went to Craig to visit. Her parents moved to the Moffatt County town in 1929 and stayed nearly 10 years before leaving for the East. The house was gone, and the school where her older brothers went had burned down as well, but she found her birth announcement at the library.
"People remembered the family name," she said. "All these years I never knew anything about Craig, and I wouldn't have except for the older people still there."
As she gets older, Grove said she enters less tournaments, and, though she still flies solo on occasion, she is paired up with her husband in Steamboat's competition. The couple set the two-person world record in November, traveling 300 kilometers.
"We're more relaxed," Knauff said. "We still want to do well, but we are more laid back."
Perhaps only on the ground.