In 1873, the great French novelist Jules Verne penned a classic adventure novel about how an English gentleman and his French valet circumnavigated the globe.
Phileas Fogg and Passepartout went “Around the World the Eighty Days” to win a wager of 20,000 pounds.
CarolAnn Garratt flew around the world in about eight days.
And in doing she set a world record and raised thousands of dollars for research to cure ALS, the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Last month, the dauntless aviator paid an unhurried visit to Apalachicola Regional Airport. The occasion was to return County Planner Alan Pierce’s brother-in-law Bill Whitley, and his brother Wes Whitley, to the airport to pick up the plane they had left there a week earlier due to inclement weather on a fishing weekend trip.
CarolAnn’s brief stop offered an opportunity to learn about her record-breaking flight, and her dedication to the cause of defeating the disease that took her mother’s life a little more than a decade ago.
The daughter of an avid flight enthusiast, whose three children all became licensed pilots, CarolAnn grew up in Pennsylvania, and first soloed in 1972 to become a hobby pilot. She went on to the University of Wisconsin, where she studied mechanical engineering, and later became a manager with a Fortune 500 company.
Her love of flying took off, so to speak, in 1996 when she completed her commercial license, and she now lives near Ocala, adjacent to her own runway from which she can lift off in her 1993 single-engine 200-horsepower J Model Mooney.
It was in that plane, seated next to her friend Carol Foy from Texas, and in front of two 60-gallon containers that replaced the rear seat, that CarolAnn embarked in Dec. 2008 on her world record flight for a Class C1-C fixed wing plane.
Her mom had died six years earlier from ALS, and in those years she had used her flying skills, including a flight around the world, to expand her fundraising effort to raise tens of thousands of dollars on behalf of fighting the disease.
“It’s like being entombed in your own body,” she said. “Mentally, they’re 100 percent there.”
Most of the people stricken by the disease are between ages 35 and 55, and are typically around 40 years old with a young family, CarolAnn said. “They’re thinking there’s some chemical component, some chemical trigger,” she said. “They’re getting somewhere. Things are happening.”
Of the roughly $300,000 she has raised over the last decade, most of it has gone to the ALS Therapy Development Institute, a Cambridge, Mass. nonprofit biotechnology organization dedicated to developing effective treatments for ALS.
The record-breaking flight, which took 18 months to plan and a little more than eight days to complete, was westbound from Florida to Hawaii and then across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand and Australia, and then on to Singapore, India, the Seychelles to South Africa, then Egypt, to Europe and across the Atlantic to Florida.
Unfortunately, the record-breaking flight landed at Orlando International Airport about an hour before the bones of toddler Cayce Anthony were discovered, so attention was diverted to a heartbreaking news story, rather than an inspiring one.
The two women stopped just eight times as they hopped across the globe, alternating the shifts, with just one night-of a full eight-hour sleep. They nearly doubled the old record, which had been 54.6 miles per hour, by achieving an average of 115.35 mph.
“We beat it by minimum ground time. It will be very difficult to break,” said CarolAnn. “That was tough, tough work.”
She has chronicled her adventures in two books, “Upon Silver Wings: Global Adventure in a Small Plane” and “Upon Silver Wings II: World-Record Adventure.” You can also read about her flight on www.alsworldflight.com
From April 2011 to March 2012, CarolAnn once again flew around the world, but this time it was at a much more leisurely pace, meandering around the globe to share her adventures everywhere from Bosnia to Brunei, from Istanbul to Indonesia, and parts in-between.
In addition to her dedication to ending the scourge of ALS, CarolAnn flies over 300 hours a year, including flying students with the Young Eagles program, the sick and needy with Angel Flights and cadets with the Civil Air Patrol.
In the summertime, she flies around the US making presentations. And sometimes, she even finds time to fly a couple friends back to the Panhandle to retrieve a plane.