Tracy Atobatele is Awarded the King Schools NAFI Scholarship for 2023
For Immediate Release: March 30, 2023, SUN ‘N FUN, Lakeland FL.
“You are not normal!”
John King meant no offense — in fact, his words were intended as high praise for Tracy Atobatele, winner of the 2023 National Association of Flight Instructors/King Schools scholarship. Valued at over $18,000, the annual scholarship includes a $5,000 stipend and access to King School’s entire range of instructional materials and videos. It aims to further the career of an aspiring or already working flight instructor.
What impressed both John and Martha King so much about Tracy was not only the variety of her accomplishments but also her unusual combination of entrepreneurial initiative and desire to help others.
She was born, the fourth of her parents’ four children, in a Lagos suburb in Nigeria. When she was eight, she and her father watched a TV segment about a young woman pilot. “Why do they admire her so much?” she asked her father. “Her job is very important,” he replied.
Her father’s answer made a deep impression on Tracy Atobatele. In her part of the world, professional success was not something many women could aspire to, but she decided that she would succeed, no matter what. After graduating from college with a major in marine biology, she first worked as a tailor, then as a flight attendant on a number of jet charter services, and finally as a broker of jet charter flights.
Moving to the United States with help from friends and family, she embarked on the project her father called “so magical and grand” — her training to become a professional pilot. Endlessly resourceful, she supported herself by setting up an online business selling sneakers made to order in Nigeria using colorful local fabrics. Characteristically, she did not keep all of the profits for herself; part she sent back to Nigeria to pay the hospital bills of needy women giving birth. At the same time, she mentored 30 young women, helping them to become flight attendants in Nigeria.
Tracy’s parents supported her ambitions, her mother even more than her father. “Usually, mothers want you to settle down and get married. But she was different. ‘There’s nothing that you cannot do,’ she would say. ‘Just keep striving!'” Her achievement remains a source of wonderment to her extended family, many of whom still live in a small village 125 miles northeast of Lagos. “I am the first in my entire generation to become a pilot,” she says, “and for a very long time no one thought I could do it.”
Extremely shy as a child and young person, Tracy found that flight training changed her, making her more self-confident and assertive. Now, she has no trouble articulating her sky’s-the-limit plans, which in the short term include flying for an airline, and in the long run opening her own flight school with an eye to helping other women begin careers in aviation.
Currently a commercial multi-engine pilot with 400 hours, Tracy will soon add CFI to her license. She has achieved what must have seemed impossible for a girl with roots in a remote Nigerian village. As Captain Josiah Choms, the managing director of Osa Helicopters in Nigeria, said of her, “She has a very special spark. I trust she will go far in making our world a better place.”