Pushing the limits

By Dan Marois

Feature Writer

Talk with Bettyann Sheats for a few minutes and you’ll discover a woman with an adventurous spirit and an interesting story at every turn.

She graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1984 in what was the fifth graduating class that allowed women at the famed academy. She explained that dollars were limited to cover college expenses from her family in New Jersey, and with women recently being allowed to enter the academy, it seemed like an opportunity.

“I was a runner, the right age and female,” said Sheats. “It seemed that the timing was right.”

She ended up at West Point rather than the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland mostly because there was a ski area nearby to satisfy her need to hit the slopes and there were more options for women.

While at West Point, she decided to confront a lifelong struggle — the fear of heights. An average person might have considered therapy or medication. Not Sheats. She decided to join a parachuting club.

“Early in life, I discovered that I had a fear of heights,” said Sheats. “I figured that skydiving would be a good way to overcome my fears.”

Though she admitted that she still has some anxiety about heights, it did not stop her from completing nearly 500 parachute jumps during her military career. She holds the honor of representing the United States in the International World Military Parachute Competition in Germany and she served as an alternate at the World Skydiving Championships in France in 1984.

“After I discovered that jumping out of aircraft was fun, I decided it would be interesting to pilot them,” said Sheats, who earned an aeronautical engineering degree, that allowed her to both pilot and repair aircraft.

“I trained and served as a Blackhawk Helicopter Maintenance Test Pilot and Helicopter Maintenance Platoon Leader in Nellingen, Germany and Fort Drum, New York until 1991,” said Sheats. During that time, she met her husband, George, who was doing the same line of work in the military working on helicopters. They were married while serving in the military together.

“While the military rarely assigns a married couple to the same unit, we were actually assigned to work together,” said Sheats, noting that their specialty was limited which prompted the unusual arrangement.

It was not uncommon for Sheats to do a test run flight piloting a helicopter that needed repair. She served as a crew chief and inspector overseeing a maintenance crew of 80 soldiers who kept the aircraft running.

Post-military life brought Sheats to Maine in 1995 when her husband found employment here. After settling in the state, she took on the role of full-time mother . She has raised a daughter who is now in college and a son in high school.

Today, she’s busy with an array of ventures.

She’s self employed in a business — Finishing Touches Shower Doors — where she installs glass shower doors.

“It allows me to use my engineering skills and to work for myself,” said Sheats.

The day after she agreed to be interviewed for this feature, she was expecting to board a morning flight to Washington, D.C. to meet with Maine’s own, Senator Angus King and Senator Susan Collins. Her goal is to encourage them to reform the Toxic Chemicals Act of 1976.

“When my daughter was younger, we built charm bracelets together and I discovered that the metal charms had lead in them,” said Sheats. It disturbed her even more when she discovered that many children’s products have traces of chemicals. Since that time, she’s remained an activist in the cause to eliminate these chemicals in Maine and nationally.

In 2012, she entered the political arena running for the state representative seat in District 68 in Auburn.

“I did not win the seat running against a three-time incumbent candidate,” said Sheats. The loss hasn’t diminished her spirit.

She’s already planning to remount a campaign for the district seat in 2014.


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