Headwinds, Hurricanes, and Heroes — What do we have in common with Zara Rutherford and her around-the-world journey?

WERKIN is launching a new series, “Leaps x Bounds”, profiling change and change-makers. WERKIN Ambassador Shalini Chudasama explores what we have in common with Zara Rutherford and her incredible around-the-world journey.

Zara Rutherford, a 19-year-old, recently became the youngest woman to fly solo around the world. At first glance, this may not seem like an impressive accomplishment given how ubiquitous commercial flight is today. However, the challenges she faced, ranging from physical safety and logistics because of climate change and the pandemic, to the burden of being the youngest women to do this, are emblematic of a world that is rapidly changing in some respects while not changing quite fast enough in others.

A turbulent path

Due to Zara’s aircraft’s design and specifications, she couldn’t fly through clouds (unlike a typical commercial plane), meaning she often had to fly under them. Given that, she was impacted by weather patterns throughout her journey, which, as has been documented, have only worsened due to climate change. Zara had to navigate storms in Florida during hurricane season, smoke in her cockpit from Californian wildfires, smog in India, and typhoons in the south Pacific. Keep in mind, she was handling all of this from a ~300 kg single-engine, 2-seater plane (for comparison, a Boeing 747 is more than 600 times heavier).

Winging it along the way

Worsening weather was only one of her obstacles — there were also complications brought about by the global pandemic. She was originally planning to fly through China, but then couldn’t fly in its airspace as part of a pandemic protocol. Strangers welcomed her during emergency landings during a time when we have had to be careful about letting even our closest family into our homes.

Exclusive flight club

It wasn’t just strangers that she met along the way, she also had a chance to connect with role models and other female aviators, like Shaesta Waiz. Zara lists a few of her inspirations on her website, such as Amelia Earhart, Bessie Coleman, Lillian Bland, and Valentina Tereshkova (look these women up if you aren’t familiar!). She states her mission as “to inspire young women and girls to pursue whatever they may be interested in, even if that is seen as traditionally male.” In the aviation, ‘traditionally male’ equates to the fact that 95% of commercial pilots are men.

Reaching great heights

While not many of us have flown solo around the world, Zara’s journey captures what we face today as individuals and communities — all the ways in which the pandemic, climate change, and issues of representation have shaped our personal or professional (or at times for Zara, physical) trajectory. It’s why her journey will continue to matter, not just for the merit and value of her impressive achievement, but the context in which she achieved it. It’s inspiring on so many levels and provides a dose of hope and excitement that whatever headwinds (pun intended) we face today, that we can take them on with the same level of poise, grit, and determination as Zara.

This post was written by WERKIN Ambassador, Shalini Chudasama, and originally appeared on the WERKIN blog at https://www.getwerkin.com/blog/zara-rutherford




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