Watching football on television is a New Year’s Day tradition—especially the Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, where the Pac-12 and Big Ten square off. In the last five years, Penn State has represented the Big Ten twice, and Margaret “Peggy” Sullivan of Manhattan Beach never misses an opportunity to support her Nittany Lions up close and in person.
“After the last touchdown was scored, I was lucky enough to capture a video of Peggy being tossed 35 times in the air,” shares friend Jill Costley. “Peggy’s smile lit up the stadium, and her picture made the jumbotron! I’ll never forget it. She is Penn State’s #1 fan.”
Peggy grew up dreaming of the day she would move away from Ardmore, Pennsylvania, a small suburb of Philadelphia. While at a fraternity party, someone recommended she become a flight attendant. The suggestion became a reality, and Peggy has been flying the friendly skies for the last 42 years with American Airlines.
“Now instead of dreaming of leaving the town I grew up in, I love going back to see family and go on bike rides along the New Jersey shore with my high school friends,” she says.
Flying with a commercial airline for more than four decades has afforded Peggy a range of experiences including flying Michael Jackson’s family and entourage across the country, meeting the pope in Vatican City, flying soldiers to Kuwait, and traveling to American Air Force bases in Italy to pick up refugees and take them back to the United States.
She has been a flight attendant for the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Cowboys. “It was a special thrill to take the Rams to their ‘destiny’ when they won the Super Bowl in 2022,” she shares. “They are all complete gentlemen who love what they do!”
Traveling is not just a career; it is a way of life for Peggy. She flies somewhere typically one-third of every month—often shaking off jet lag to enjoy new cultures or experiences. From the cherry blossoms in Tokyo to the Great Wall of China to the charm of Charleston, South Carolina, she soaks it all in with a smile on her face. Layovers have served as opportunities to run a marathon or compete in a triathlon.
“WE DECIDED IF WE COULD JUST SWIM AROUND THE PIER, ANYTHING WOULD BE POSSIBLE.”
Even though she didn’t grow up near an ocean, Peggy has now competed in the Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier Swim 34 times. This annual event starts at Hermosa Beach Pier and ends at the Manhattan Beach Pier. She now also competes in the International Surf Festival paddleboard race an hour before the event. “I needed a ride to the start line,” she explains.
For training, Peggy swims with a group of friends three times a week. If she’s not in the ocean, she can be found at either of the two local Bay Clubs. “One of my favorite people to swim with is Bill Singley, who is 84 with no signs of slowing down,” she says. On cold mornings, it is the anticipation of the post-swim coffee and debriefing with friends that gives her the extra motivation to get in the water.
Ocean swimming started for Peggy in her 30s when a small group of friends thought it would be fun to compete in a triathlon starting at the Manhattan Beach Pier. “We decided if we could just swim around the pier, anything would be possible,” says Peggy. “We all made it, and we were so excited, you would have thought we had just swum the Catalina Channel!”
The challenge of swimming the entire distance—combined with adapting to the changing conditions and elements—boosts Peggy’s adrenaline. Plus, she loves to swim near dolphins. “Manhattan Beach seems to have become cleaner with more visibility over the years,” she adds. “We often call ourselves mermaids and dive for sand dollars, which is a mermaid’s currency.”
One of her favorite swimming locations is across Honolulu’s Waikiki. She says it is like traversing an aquarium.
With a trial-and-error approach to life, Peggy wears many hats, including licensed real estate agent, property manager, substitute teacher, and marriage and family therapist. None of these other careers hold a candle to the flexibility she has as a flight attendant. In that role, she has utilized her skills as a therapist—not taking passengers’ negative comments to heart and using de-escalation techniques to help passengers decompress.
“You never know if a passenger is thinking about the stressful security line or almost missing their flight,” she says. “They might just need someone to listen, or maybe they just need a Coca-Cola.”
“We fly so you can soar” is an American Airlines slogan about being of service to passengers. Peggy is a prime example of this type of empowerment because she doesn’t let life or its circumstances hold her back. She too is soaring.