Retired U.S. Navy pilot and astronaut Mark Kelly may have become a real life “Top Gun” hero, but the road was filled with detours and near misses.
Kelly—husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords—said poor academics and early brushes with authority kept him from excelling in life. Yet that all changed when Kelly’s mother, who worked two jobs to make ends meet, overcame physical shortcomings to become a police officer like his father.
Kelly adopted his parents “can do” attitude and became an ambulance driver in Newark and other high-crime areas. He then joined the Navy and entered flight school. But Kelly was soon encouraged to re-consider his goals after poor flight-training performances. Instead, he doubled down and eventually excelled, advancing to captain, flying combat missions and visiting space four times.
Many of the pilots who did well in flight training “didn’t go on to be test pilots or astronauts,” he said. “I’m a living example that a lack of aptitude can be overcome through practice, persistence and the drive to never give up.”
Kelly said the same was true of Giffords, who was the victim of a near-fatal shooting outside Tucson in 2011. Shortly afterward, he opted out of piloting the space shuttle Endeavor on its final mission. But as Giffords began recovering from her injuries, Kelly changed his mind. He believed the high-achieving Giffords, who chaired the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics while in Congress, would have wanted it that way.
Although Giffords, the former CEO of her family’s tire and auto center, couldn’t attend the Convention, she sent attendees the following message: “Be passionate, be strong, be the best.”