Turning fear into fanatics! Luna Park enthusiast marks 300th ride on Thunderbolt

teen poses with thunderbolt coaster coney island
A local roller coaster fanatic has marked over 300 rides on Luna Park’s Thunderbolt.
Photos courtesy of Frances Helquist/Luna Park

Luna Park may have found its number-one fan!

A local teen recently celebrated her 300th ride on the park’s famed Thunderbolt, with more to come if she has anything to do with it.

Frances Helquist, a Brooklyn native, actually grew up with a fear of roller coasters and said she could never ride the Thunderbolt as a child. But as she became a teen, her fear of rides was replaced with a zeal for adrenaline, and for Luna Park. 

300 times and counting! Helquist stands out as one of the park's biggest fans.
300 times and counting! Helquist stands out as one of the park’s biggest fans. Photo courtesy of Frances Helquist / Luna Park

Helquist told Brooklyn Paper that spending time on the rides in Coney Island is now one of her favorite pastimes. 

“When I was little I would never ride. I was way too scared. Even the kiddie ones. My cousins eventually peer-pressured me into riding one,” she said. “I grew up with the park. I love Thunderbolt.”

Last year she celebrated both her 100th and 200th ride in a single season. After her shift at the New York Aquarium, located up the block from Luna Park, she said she would take the edge off with a couple of loops around the ride. 

“Just from riding it so much, I’ve had a lot of good memories on it. I made a lot of friends. I made really good friends with the ride operators,” she said. “I actually love the end of the ride more than the first half. It’s just fun the whole time through.”

Step ride up! This teen can be spotted at Luna Park on any given day.
Step ride up! This teen can be spotted at Luna Park on any given day. Photo courtesy of Frances Helquist/Luna Park

Helquist’s love for parks goes beyond the typical adrenaline junkie. She’s highly knowledgeable about the operation of rides and speaks of their mechanics with ease.

The teen is spending the summer working as a ride operator at Luna Park, where she operates kiddie rides such as the Circus Coaster, Coney Tower, and WindstarZ. She hopes to operate the Thunderbolt when she comes back to work next summer before heading to college at SUNY New Paltz to study mechanical engineering. After she graduates, Helquist plans to pursue a career as a roller coaster manufacturer and designer.

Brooklynites are invited to in on Helquist’s love for Thunderbolt at the ride’s 10th anniversary celebration on June 14.

Thunderbolt in Coney Island
Thrill seekers take a spin on the Thunderbolt. File photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Park representatives have a full day of fun planned, including a “coasterthon.” In celebration of the milestone, a group of non-profit organizations will ride all eight of Luna Park’s roller coasters, marathon-style, to raise funds and awareness for their respective missions.

“We are thrilled to celebrate 10 years of the revolutionary Thunderbolt, the first major custom-built steel coaster in NYC,” said Alessandro Zamperla, president and CEO of Central Amusement International, Inc., in a statement. “We are excited to continue to leverage our unique resources, skills, talents to support our community, bringing positive, and meaningful impact to South Brooklyn and beyond.”

The top winners could walk away with anywhere from $10,000 to $3,000 in prize money.