She can fly!

Piloting a hot-air balloon takes strength and skill, but this woman makes it look like a breeze.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor

A hot-air balloon – the basket, the fuel tanks, and the envelope – can weigh more than 800 pounds. Balloonists heave and pull and struggle to get the envelope filled and the basket off the ground. This is a task usually left to big burly guys, so imagine my surprise when I came across a small female balloonist.

Working alone, Becky Petrehn, part of a two-woman team, pulled the ropes and fired up the burner, making the balloon rise. I was intrigued enough to follow her for three days with my camera during the Columbia Balloon Invitational, a competition in Missouri.

And so my first time up in a hot-air balloon was with Becky in her balloon, "Twisted Sister." Although Becky claims the balloon was named after the colorful twisted patterns in the fabric, her brother, world champion balloon pilot John Petrehn, might jokingly claim otherwise.

Becky and John competed during the invitational, and I got to watch from the skies as they raced and dropped markers onto targets on the ground. I was able to witness the physical exertion, the strength, knowledge, and calculation needed to pilot a balloon. A tough job for anyone, let alone a woman working in a field still dominated by men.

Through the process of shooting this photo story, I came to admire and respect Becky, her rough and tumble attitude, and her determination.

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