Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Donna Hartley, who became Miss Hawaii in 1970, is back in the islands to give a motivational speech about her life and ordeals.

Tragedy to triumph

A former Miss Hawaii who survived a plane
accident will speak about her persistence

Donna Hartley

Job: Motivational speaker

Topic: "Fire Up Your Organization for Change"

What: Hawaii Employers Council seminar

When: Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: The Halekulani hotel in Waikiki

Cost (includes lunch): $150 for Hawaii Employers Council members; $200 for nonmembers

Contact: Vicky Kakazu, 440-8888

Internationally recognized motivational speaker Donna Hartley, who gained fame as a survivor of a fiery DC-10 plane accident, credits lessons learned in Hawaii for some of the fortitude that has carried her far in life.

A former Miss Hawaii, Hartley said she learned the value of perseverance while braving the beauty circuit, balancing class work at the University of Hawaii and selling pots and pans door to door.

"It took five tries to get Miss Hawaii, which after all these years is still my credibility," Hartley said. "Now, it doesn't matter that I lost four pageants, only that I won that one."

From surviving the beauty circuit and becoming Miss Hawaii in 1970, Hartley later gained fame, not in Hollywood as she had originally planned, but as a survivor of the ill-fated Continental Flight 603, which crashed March 1, 1978. Hartley had been en route from Los Angeles to Honolulu, where she planned to emcee the Miss Hawaii pageant. Three tires blew off the plane during takeoff and the aircraft careened off the runway and began speeding 167 miles an hour toward a fenced lot crammed with cars. Two of the 200 people on board died at the scene and two others died from their injuries three months after the crash.

Hartley is on Oahu to share her story on Friday with members of the Hawaii Employers Council, a nonprofit that helps companies with employee relations.

Hartley also will conduct two business seminars this weekend, titled "Is Your Attitude Showing?" for Subway International conventioneers at Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Since Hartley's greatest success came after tragedy, she measures every incident by time elapsed from the plane crash. After literally walking through fire, Hartley parlayed that experience along with other heartbreak and adversity in her life into a career as a motivational speaker. As the founder of Hartley International, based in Tahoe City, Calif., Hartley travels spreading motivational wisdom gleaned from a life filled with hard knocks.

Hartley has fought for airline safety regulations, launched a business, survived skin cancer and adopted a child as a single mother.

"When you go through life, it will flow a lot easier if you learn to adapt to change, rather than have it forced on you," Hartley said.

"Hawaii taught me the importance of persistence and diversity."

Bryon Ng, a Hawaii-based photographer, said he first met Hartley when they were students at the University of Hawaii in the late 1960s.

Ng, who taught Hartley to surf, said he's kept up with her career and has been amazed at her accomplishments, in light of her trials.

"You never know how a person's life is going to turn out," said Ng, who left Hawaii to serve in Vietnam following college.

"She's inspiring, considering the ordeal that she's been through."

Rather than grieve her losses and near misses, Hartley is sharing her experiences with the world. She's written three books, made more than 100 television appearances and hosted her own TV show, "Get What You Want."

"When you step forward, you face rejection," Hartley said.

"But as you master each painful lesson, you grow and that leads to success."

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