PENSACOLA — Madrina Ciano spent the past year of her life practicing “hick” breathing exercises while driving her personal watercraft on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Ciano, a full-time volunteer in Pensacola, and B.J. Price, principal of West Navarre Primary School, were two “Key Influencer” riders selected to fly with the Blue Angels in 2017. But Ciano and Price weren’t able to fly last year after the flights were canceled because of maintenance issues.
On Thursday, while sporting blue flight suits and aviator helmets, Ciano and Price finally received their promised second chance to fly at the speed of sound.
“I’ve been preparing for this flight all year long,” Ciano said. “The flight being canceled gave me an opportunity to prepare physically and mentally.
“I would be on the Jet Ski with my husband and he would hear me and asked what I was doing. I’d tell him, ‘Don’t mind me. I’m practicing my breathing for the Blue Angels.’ ”
Price was the first to take off Thursday with Blue Angels No. 7 Lt. Andre Webb. Webb, known by his call sign “Sundown” after a character in the movie “Top Gun,” will fill one of the six primary performance positions for the Blue Angels next year.
When Price finally touched down after 45 minutes in the air, the principal said he felt victorious because he reached 7.2 Gs, all without throwing up or passing out.
“Oh my gosh!,” Price exclaimed as he stepped out of the jet. “What a great ride. I’m just blessed, honestly. I’m overwhelmed with lots of emotions right now.”
Price immediately hugged his father, Bill Price, who also was selected as a Key Influencer rider in 2013. The father and son swapped stories of their flights with the Blue Angels, teasing one another about who handled the flight the best.
Key Influencer riders are selected from people in the community who “help shape attitudes and opinions of youth” in Northwest Florida. The Blue Angels selects two riders each year from Pensacola to participate in the demo flight.
Prior to the flight, Chief Petty Officer 1st Class Anthony Batronis taught Price and Ciano how to avoid passing out by flexing the bottom halves of their bodies. He also went over how to eject their seats in case of emergency, use the designated throw-up bags and, most important to Ciano, how to properly hick breathe.