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‘You’re Never Too Old, Never Too Late and Never Too Broken to Do Whatever It Is That You Want to Do’, Captain Nyambura Gathuru on Self-Reinvention

Article by Damaris Agweyu
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Posted: March 10, 2021  

Reinventing yourself isn’t about becoming someone else; it’s about realigning your life with what you want and taking the necessary actions to become who you know you can be. Nyambura Gathuru should know. In 2019, she made a clean break from her corporate banking career to pursue her childhood dream of flying planes.

The 42-year-old who describes herself as a multifaceted individual shares, with Damaris Agweyu, her journey towards self-reinvention.

Nyambura, what gets you excited?

Travel, swimming pools, pianos and airports.

Airports? Really?

Maybe not airports so much as aeroplanes. They fascinate me. When I was a teen, my older brother would take me to the waving bay at JKIA to watch the planes every Saturday or Sunday; this was all before terrorism became a thing. Once that bay was closed off, I switched my location to the Uchumi supermarket at Wilson airport. I always dreamed of flying a plane.

And close to 3 decades later, your dream has become a reality.

Yes. It’s been a long time coming. My career had been in Corporate Banking for a decent amount of time before then.

How did you finally crossover?

I was working as an account relationship manager when I met Captain Gilbert Kibe, the current Kenya Civil Aviation Authority Director-General. He was one of my clients at the time. During one of our conversations, I told him about my fascination with flying. He told me he would be happy to introduce me to aviation. “Free up your Saturday mornings, and if there is an available aircraft, I will invite you to take a familiarization flight”, he said.

I freed up my Saturdays and waited…and waited.

One morning he called and asked how quickly I could get to Wilson airport. I needed an hour tops. He told me to put on a white shirt, black pants and flat, comfortable shoes; and make my way there.

He introduced me to a Cessna- 172, a small four-seater aircraft. At some point during our flight, he gave me the controls and instructed me to keep the aircraft flying towards some turbines up the Ngong hills. I lived in Ngong at the time, and as we approached the Ngong town vicinity, he asked me to locate my house, which I did. At one point, I came close to throwing up; thankfully, I didn’t. Because at the end of the flight, Captain Kibe told me, “You didn’t throw up? You may have what it takes to fly!”

It would take another eight years before I took the leap.

Why so long?

I didn’t feel ready. I was ensconced with my current job. Or maybe I just needed a push. I had been working as a Corporate Banker for several years. While it was very rewarding and financially stable, the long hours that I kept, coupled with chronic stress had started to diminish my creativity and passion. I was hitting 40 and feeling somewhat despondent. Something had to give. I knew that I had to start thinking differently. It was time to re-invest in myself and pursue a new adventure.

By now, all I wanted to do was fly, and my ultimate goal was to become a commercial pilot, but that would be a costly affair and dare I say, a huge risk; I needed a plan.

I put up a standing order that pushed a significant amount of my income to a savings account. I sold my BMW and replaced it with a Vitz. I would go for my piloting classes during my spare time on weekends and days off. The weeks were long, but my excitement was back.

And then, I got the final push that I needed. I heard that the organization that I was working for at the time was right sizing and would offer voluntary early retirement packages to those who wanted it. I applied for it and navigated the politics of leaving the company with my bosses; I got a positive response. The early retirement package helped me pay off my mortgage and left me with some extra cash. It was a godsend.

And now you have your private pilot license?

Yes. The minimum number of hours for graduating with the private pilot license is 40 hours of flying; I completed 63 hours. And now I am working towards my commercial pilot license. It requires a minimum of 200 hours of flying and is contingent on my financial resources. The time frame to complete it is one and a half years from the date of successfully passing the theory exams and I am hoping to be done by Quarter 3 of 2021.

Being a pilot is continuous learning, and it is intense. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted! By the time you are flying KQ to Paris, for instance, you need to have a multi-engine and multi-instrument rating, meaning I need to be able to handle a multi-engine aircraft at night, in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (poor visibility conditions) – and those are just the minimum entry requirements. The airline you work for has to train you on their type of aircraft. We’re talking thousands of flying hours. It’s an ongoing process and is quite a journey.

Captain Nyambura Gathuru with her flight instructor, Captain Kariuki Muigai.

Read the full interview on Qazini

About the author

Damaris Agweyu

Damaris Agweyu is the founder of Qazini and author of Different Paths, One Journey.

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