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Alum pursues goal in air and sea

When Sheryl Jones Suescun Brakey ’69 (biology) was a kid growing up on a dairy farm in Holland Patent, N.Y., she made a list of things she wanted to do in her life.

Sheryl Jones Suescun Brakey ’69

“I wanted to learn to fly a plane, parachute jump, scuba dive and ride a horse really well,” she says. “Well, I guess I still don’t ride very well.”

To say she realized her childhood dreams would be a colossal understatement. Brakey has managed to turn adventure into a lifestyle. It’s quite a story.

She began her studies at RIT as a medical technology major. She married in 1967, changed her major to biology and had a baby by the time she graduated. She lived in South America for a time, had another child, returned to the states, was chief medical technologist at a major hospital in Dallas and then became a medical supplies salesperson.

Meanwhile, she learned to fly. She loved it but couldn’t afford it. Then her instructor suggested she participate in a competition for women that judged overall proficiency. She won. The resulting publicity caught the attention of Texas Instruments, which was promoting a calculator that could be used for navigation. The company asked her to use the device in another race. She won.

By 1976, after more success in the air, Brakey was named most proficient pilot in the country. “That really opened some doors for me in aviation.”

Brakey went to work for the marketing division of Alcor, a San Antonio company that makes aircraft instruments, then became the first woman sales representative for Narco Avionics. Ultimately, she became a rep for Bell Helicopters, selling and flying helicopters that started at $1 million. In 1988 she was named salesman of the year.

In 1989, feeling “really burned out,” she moved back to San Antonio and took a job as vice president of marketing for a small computer company. When the company closed, she joined Mooney Aircraft Corp. as director of marketing. Meanwhile, Brakey earned an MBA at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, and later, a master’s degree in international relations from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

Her son introduced her to scuba diving and she took to the water with the same zeal that launched her as a pilot. On her second date with Bob Brakey, she took him for an introductory dive. He liked it, she liked him and they married in 1991. The senior vice president for a large insurance company, Bob, then 53, was planning to retire in two years.

“In the meantime, I met a Peace Corps recruiter,” Sheryl says. “I came home and said, ‘Honey, you know how you said you wanted to travel and get someone else to pay for it?’ ”

When Bob retired, the couple signed up and spent two years in Chile, helping mom and pop businesses. The Peace Corps experience allowed them to see most of South America. Since then, there’s been more travel, including many diving expeditions.

And once again, Brakey’s pastime has evolved into a business. She started making underwater videos and entering them in contests. She started winning, including first place in the 2001 International Underwater Malaysia and the 2002 Beneath the Sea Dive and Travel Exposition competitions. In 2003, Acquario Civico in Milan, Italy, gave Brakey a special award for her video “Once Upon a Time.”

Two years ago, she formed SjB Productions (www.sjbproductions.com) to market her growing selection of dive and travel videos. The Brakeys have visited 63 countries since 1991 and still haven’t slaked their wanderlust. Trips planned for 2004 include Australia to film underwater the leafy sea dragon in mating season, and South Africa and Botswana.

“I think I’ve always been an adventurer,” says Brakey. “It’s a desire to learn about the world and share it with others. My kids are used to this, and now my husband is my greatest supporter. The conservative insurance man has become an adventurer, too.”