Health Careers High School students (from left) Chloe Kiniry, Audra Blazicko, and Aaron Mayfield sit for a portrait.
Health Careers High School students (from left) Chloe Kiniry, Audra Blazicko, and Aaron Mayfield, all accepted the United States Air Force Academy, sit for a portrait. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Salutatorian. Quarter miler. Violinist. Student hospital worker. Class president for three years. Health Careers High School senior Aaron Mayfield is all of that as well as a pilot and King of the Creative Ask.

On Saturday, April 20, Mayfield put his pilot’s license to unexpected use. He picked up fellow senior Hannah Alonzo in a Cessna 172 and flew into the late afternoon sky. To Alonzo’s surprise, Mayfield swooped down over Boerne Lake, where several friends were holding up large signs, each with a letter that spelled out “P-R-O-M ?”

“I was speechless,” said Alonzo, a member of the USA Acrobatic Gymnastics National team. “It took me a while and then I said, ‘yes.’”

Mayfield’s aeronautic skill, intelligence and outside-the-box thinking helped land him in rare company. He and two Health Careers classmates – Chloe Kiniry and Audra Blazicko – have received appointments to the Air Force Academy.

“That’s very unusual,” said Health Careers principal Linda Burk. “And we’re a small school. We have 848 students.”

The acceptance rate at the Air Force Academy, according to the admissions office, is just over 10 percent. The academy receives more than 10,000 applications each year for just under 1,200 spots. In recent years, incoming cadets rank, on average, in the top three percent of their senior classes.

Academics, however, comprise only 50 percent of the admission criteria. Other criteria include extracurricular activities, a fitness assessment, a writing sample, an officer interview, and a personal data record review.

Like Mayfield, Blazicko and Kiniry are bright lights with stunning, wild blue yonder credentials.

An A student, Blazicko is an equestrian champion and president of San Antonio 4-H Shooting Sports. She throws the discus, serves as track team field events captain, participates in a student dental program, owns a student pilot’s license, and received a scholarship to attend a NASA-sponsored aerospace summer program. In middle school, she designed a rocket and served as captain of a team that finished seventh in the nation – against high school and collegiate competition – in the Team America Rocketry Challenge.

Kiniry, meanwhile, excels as an A student, church violinist, summer missionary, certified medical assistant, and swimmer. Though Health Careers has fewer than 900 students, Kiniry is a district and regional champion in the 50-meter freestyle in the largest classification, Class 6A, for schools with enrollments of at least 2,190. She has advanced to the state meet the past two years and holds the school record in the event. She will swim at the Air Force Academy.

Kiniry once participated in a 4-H veterinary program until discovering she was allergic to dogs and cats. Now she participates in the Health Careers medical assistance program, drawing blood and learning how to give vaccinations. The daughter of two nurses, one of whom is a retired Air Force colonel, Kiniry aspires to serve in the medical field.

“I intend to pursue health and medicine majors,” she said. “I am not 100 percent sure but I might go into research, sports medicine, rehabilitation, or become a physician. The field has always attracted me because I was able to see the needs from going to the hospital with my parents at a young age.”

Kiniry didn’t consider applying to the Air Force Academy until her junior year. Blazicko decided on the academy in fifth grade. The daughter of retired Air Force lieutenant colonels, Blazicko attended commencement exercises at the academy for a family friend seven years ago. When graduates tossed their hats, Blazicko followed tradition and sprinted down a hill to grab one. Inside, she found a $20 bill and an inspirational note from an unnamed cadet.

“I told my dad and my mom, ‘I want to do this,’” Blazicko said. “’My dad was like, ‘All right, Audra, let’s first graduate fifth grade.’ Ever since, the Air Force has been my passion.”

She attended Krueger Middle School because it had an aerospace program, The Student Launch Initiative. That’s where she met Mayfield – the program consisted of six students – and a love for rocket science was born. Blazicko developed other passions in middle school, such as competitive riding and shooting.

When doctors diagnosed her grandfather with lung cancer, Blazicko decided to attend Health Careers. “I wanted to see the different options of medicine,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed it. But for me, aeronautical engineering is still my passion. And I’d like to go into pilot training.”

(from left) Health Careers High School seniors Chloe Kiniry, Aaron Mayfield, and Audra Blazicko
(From left) Health Careers High School seniors Chloe Kiniry, Aaron Mayfield, and Audra Blazicko. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Mayfield remembers his first flight at the age of 7 with an uncle on a Cessna 180 taildragger. And “at that moment,” Mayfield said, “I decided I wanted to be a pilot.” Four years later, he watched an F-22 raptor roar across the sky at an air show. After the pilot signed a poster for Mayfield that read: “Aaron, Aim High – Zeke,” the fifth-grader decided to attend the Air Force Academy.

Mayfield was class president for his freshman, sophomore, and junior years at Health Careers.

“He has had his eye on the prize from day one,” Burk said. “He has looked at the qualifications [to enroll in the academy] and has shaped his life toward that end. He is truly an incredible leader. He is going to be an amazing officer.”

Piloting runs in the family. An aunt, Martha Goppert, was an aviation pioneer, the only female pilot in the Flying Circus Airshow on the East Coast. Her story is featured in the “Women and Flight” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. A great uncle, Charles “Tex” Goppert, was a Navy fighter pilot and a lead pilot in the Flying Circus.

Two family tragedies inspired Mayfield to serve. As a little boy, he watched Alzheimer’s erode his grandmother’s cognitive abilities. He fed her dinner and helped care for her but wanted to do more. Soon, an interest in medicine sparked.

On his 10th birthday, Mayfield learned that Uncle Tex had succumbed to cancer. He not only lost his role model and flight instructor, his uncle’s plane was sold. Initially, Mayfield thought he would not be able to fly. He soon discovered, though, that he could take flying lessons in Boerne. But he wondered: should he pursue aviation or medicine? In time, Mayfield learned he could do both.

His plan: earn a degree in biology, attend flight school, apply to medical school, and enter a pilot physician program. “That would allow me to be a pilot physician,” he said, “which serves as an active pilot and active-duty medical doctor at the same time. You could say I aspire to be a flight surgeon, who takes care of the pilot squadron.”

Mayfield, Blazicko, and Kiniry report for basic training on June 28. A grueling six weeks await in Colorado Springs, 6,035 feet above sea level. They will carry ambition and dreams into the academy and beyond, high into the sky, gleaming with possibility.

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native and award-winning journalist.