Former resident having ball at balloon race

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 2, 2006

BATON ROUGE &8212; Former Natchez resident Cyndi Joseph could almost power her seven-story hot-air balloon on enthusiasm.

While waiting for pilot briefings for the U.S. National Hot-Air Balloon Championship and the Louisiana State Championship, Joseph was already laughing, giggling and talking fast as an auctioneer during the predawn hours.

Don&8217;t underestimate her, however, when she rips her balloon and pulls her 77,000 cubic-foot nylon balloon with drill sergeant precision. In minutes, In Their Honor (Cyndi&8217;s balloon named in the honor of America&8217;s soldiers) is in the air.

Email newsletter signup

&8220;I wouldn&8217;t be doing this if it weren&8217;t for Connie Floyd,&8221; Joseph, who now lives in Baton Rouge, said. &8220;I got hooked crewing for Connie back in the early 90s, flying with her around Natchez and crossing the Mighty Muddy to Vidalia where I also grew up.&8221;

That was 11 years ago. Joseph honors many people who&8217;ve been the wind beneath her wings; including her mom, Dora, who still lives in Natchez, and her late grandmother Mary Portera. To honor those Italian roots, Joseph named her first balloon That&8217;s Amore in their honor.

That&8217;s love all right, but it&8217;s the love of flying that keeps her bubbly at daybreak.

&8220;I love it. I love yelling at the people on the ground,&8221; she said. &8220;I love flying people for the first time. It&8217;s never what they expected. They say, &8216;It&8217;s so smooth and so easy,&8217; and I&8217;ll say, &8216;Have you picked any leaves lately &8230; from the top of a tree?&8217; We swoop down and pluck a few. I make sure they have fun.&8221;

&8220;I love the sport but when I can&8217;t get to the main target, I just turn it into my event,&8221; she said. &8220;I just talk to people on the ground and if they have room I land. Kids, old and young, pour out of their houses to come and see me. Every time I land I win.&8221;

Cyndi can&8217;t wait for Natchez&8217;s &8220;Great Mississippi River Balloon Race&8221; coming in October.

&8220;Many pilots tell me is our race is the most beautiful of all the races,&8221; she said, &8220;because of the Great River, antebellum homes, the whole layout of creeks, ravines and fields. They love taking off from Natchez, jumping the river and landing in Concordia. I can tell you, from 1,000 feet, it really is beautiful.&8221;

Leo Honeycutt, a former TV anchor, helps organize this balloon event each year.

He is currently spending a lot of time in Natchez, living mostly on Lake St. John while writing the authorized biography of former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards.