Blog Feature
Tony D'Amelio

By: Tony D'Amelio on June 28th, 2018

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Inspirational Tour de Force: 1st Woman Thunderbird is Pure Magic On Stage

Managing/Leading Change | Motivation


It's perhaps the most exciting thing about my work; I'm talking about those rare occasions when I stumble across an amazing new speaker - a literal unknown - whose totally unique story and powerful message are so uplifting and transformational that audiences leap to their feet with a spontaneous and sustained standing ovation. Being the person responsible for finding and bringing that fresh voice to new audiences is rewarding beyond words. It's one of the great joys of what I do and it truly is what gets me up in the morning. 

At the end of 2017, at the urging of a friend, I met COL. NICOLE MALACHOWSKI USAF, (RET.). She has a unique and amazing story that's hers alone. Nicole delivers her message with humor and humility and in a way that touches audiences' hearts and minds getting them to see that they can succeed far beyond what they imagine.

Nicole was departing the Air Force in December of 2017 after a celebrated 21-year career. She is a pioneering aviator who wanted to fly fighter jets since she was five years old. Nicole achieved that dream and so much more. She was the first woman pilot for the USAF Thunderbirds - only one in 2,000 pilots ever achieve that elite status. She was a squadron commander, a White House fellow, and a combat veteran with 188 hours flown in Iraq and Kosovo. Nicole's extraordinary career led to her induction into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame.

And then...the dream suddenly ended. Nicole was medically retired from the job she loved after an undiagnosed tick bite left her with a severe and chronic neurological tick-borne illness.  A tiny tick bite changed everything. 


Peak performance under pressure: COL. NICOLE MALACHOWSKI (USAF, RET.) -- first woman Thunderbird pilot, combat veteran, and White House Fellow -- offers leadership and life lessons from a 21-year USAF career.  
Invite her to speak at your next event.




Nicole has an amazing story to tell about lessons learned during her military career and as a result of her harrowing personal health crisis that actually rendered her bedridden, housebound, and unable to speak or walk normally for months. Her story inspires and offers practical tools for audiences looking to adapt to a world filled with disruptive change and push the envelope to achieve the best possible outcomes in everything they do. 





In flying, headwinds slow you down. At their worst, they cause you to change your plans and impact the effectiveness of weapons in combat. Headwinds demand that pilots be agile, resilient, and resourceful...literally on the fly. “Headwinds are the perfect metaphor for the change impacting organizations and individuals today,” says 21-year Air Force veteran Nicole Malachowski. 



What does it take to be the best? The individuals and teams who achieve at the highest levels have one thing in common: they push the envelope and go to the edge of boundaries. They accomplish as much as possible and do it to a standard of excellence. Pushing the envelope is an aviation term for taking an aircraft to the maximum limits of its abilities. In the business world, pushing the envelope means knowing yourself – certainly knowing your limits – all while using every bit of your ability to maximize your performance, be your best and be consistent. 



Every great accomplishment involves breaking barriers – both culturally and within. Nicole Malachowski is a trailblazer who succeeded in a traditionally male-dominated career field: the world of the fighter pilot. As uncomfortable and risky as stretching the limits of yourself and your surroundings might be, Nicole tells audiences there’s no reason to allow that to dictate your goals and aspirations. She became one of the first women to fly a modern-day fighter aircraft, the very first woman to fly with the Air Force Thunderbird aerial demonstration team, and she was inducted into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame. She is relatable to women and men with a fascinating narrative of exactly what it took to be a woman vanguard and break tradition. Nicole offers actionable tools and real-world lessons about pursuing her dream, making choices, all while building a family and achieving success in a career where few women had gone before. Nicole inspires audiences with a message rooted in her personal mantra – “Nobody wants to lead a scripted life.”




SUPPLEMENTAL READING: Col. Nicole Malachowski (USAF, Ret.), First Woman Thunderbird Pilot, Joins DN and Leadership Q&A: First Woman USAF Thunderbird Pilot is Rock-Star Aviator




Reaction to Nicole’s speeches is unprecedented – a sampling of comments:  

“Nicole was exceptionally well received. She—truly—did a magnificent job. Connected with the audience, inspiring, thought-provoking, funny, real, open. Our colleagues couldn’t stop talking about it. She was the highlight of our event”.

United Healthcare Group 

“Col. Nicole Malachowski took our financial professionals by storm - three weeks later, people are still talking about her. She has a unique gift of being able to relate her very interesting and exciting professional and personal life experiences to a diverse audience in a completely different profession. Her genuine conversational style made each attendee feel she was talking directly to them.”

-Treasury Management Association of New York 

"I have had the pleasure and burden of hosting speakers for major corporate and client meetings (40-7000 attendees) for the last twenty years. I refer to this part of my work as a burden only because when you chose a speaker who doesn’t hit the mark, it can have a significant impact on the experience, efficacy and ratings of an event. But when you chose well, it’s magic. I’m writing to you today to let you know that you, Nicole Malachowski, are magic! You are easily in my “top-5 of all-time”! In addition to be an excellent public speaker in manner, tone and approach, your presentation was stunningly inspiring, moving and motivational. And it wasn’t just a feel good session. Every person in the room left with business and life-tools to use and share. But most of all, each and every one of us left the room with a more grateful heart. For me, this is the home run of home runs as we attempt to bring some light to the lives of our employees and clients. Thank you for being the amazing woman and role model you are, for your service to our great country and for sharing part of yourself with us. I, too, wish you blue skies and tail winds.”

-Cetera Advisors

“I was at the Strayer retreat this past week, and wanted to express how much your presentation meant to me. I’m sure you get this a lot, but your stage presence is amazing but your message is life-changing. You may not know how many people in each of your audiences are affected, but I can assure you that your message spoke to me in a time of need and I just wanted to share my appreciation. I so appreciate your story and how you are so blessed to connect with others.”

-Strayer University Attendee

"An indomitable spirit whose life journey adds such warmth and depth to her powerful message. She is relatable to women and men with a fascinating narrative of overcoming trials and tribulations all while being an unwitting trailblazer in aviation, in leadership, in social awareness and in medical care"

-Northrop Grumman

“A very special thank you for your incredible keynote at our team meeting this week. You touched my team with your brilliant and meaningful storytelling and have inspired them with your leadership and very practical tips on how to manage headwinds. You captivated their hearts and minds—and it was exactly the kind of closing I wanted to end our week of planning sessions. I know you are going to have an amazing career as a speaker as my team like me was thinking of how and where we need to have your message in our programs and will be recommending you to their network of colleagues and friends in the industry.”

- Best Western® Hotels & Resorts

“Nicole, thanks again for joining us in Wilmington! My team couldn’t have been more pleased to work with you. Your message of perseverance, determination, and overcoming roadblocks was incredibly moving and inspiring. Our group of hoteliers and developers embraced your courage, and your path resonated with the myriad of challenges we face in our industry. I was especially impressed when you joined us the day before, sat through our meetings, got to know various people, and mentioned them during your talk! I have to say that never before have I had our group rise and give a standing ovation to a guest speaker and then be asked to return to the stage for ongoing applause!”

- PM Hotel Group 

“… it was the best, most inspiring, heartfelt and meaningful speech I heard all year. Even though I have never flown a jet, given birth to children, or had to deal with a tick-borne illness, you effortlessly translated your words and stories on resilience and dedication into the challenges we face every day. Keep telling your story, it was a pleasure to hear.”

- BPG|360


Nicole Malachowski is a fresh and inspiring voice who helps audiences be more resilient in a world where change is constant and disruption is everywhere.

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About Tony D'Amelio

Tony has spent his career putting talented people and audiences together, first in the music business and later representing the world's leading speakers. After concluding 27 years as Executive Vice President of the Washington Speakers Bureau, Tony launched D'Amelio Network, a boutique firm that manages the speaking activities of a select group of experts on business, management, politics and current events. Clients include: Mike Abrashoff, Mariana Atencio, Chris Barton, Lisa Bodell, Geoff Colvin, Daryl Davis, Suneel Gupta, Ron Insana, Katty Kay, Polly LaBarre, Nicole Malachowski, Ken Schmidt, and Bob Woodward.

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