Robina Asti has led an extraordinary life: she flew planes with the Navy during World War II, managed a major mutual fund in New York City and, at 99 years old, still serves as a flight instructor. But don't expect her to get sentimental; Asti has embraced her more than nine decades on Earth with her signature wry sense of humor.
"Being 99 is just a number," she told InsideEdition.com. "It's a number that means 100 years ago, in 1921, some little jerk was born. And that's me."
"I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is see out the window that it's daylight, and I think, 'Hey, I survived the night. Isn't that great? I got a day to look forward to. I don't care what happened. I'm going to enjoy this day,'" she added. "In other words, I've already made me feel good."
Asti transitioned in 1976 and has become a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights in her later years. She married the love of her life, artist Norwood Patton, in an old airplane hangar in 2004. The pair had been together for decades before they tied the knot. But when it came time to apply for widow benefits from the Social Security Administration after Patton's death in 2012, Asti was denied because the agency said she was "legally male" at the time of their marriage.
Asti fought back, and won. After leading a relatively quiet life, that battle led her to speak out and join forces with the advocacy nonprofit that helped her, Lambda Legal. Since then, she's worked on a variety of causes, including with LGBTQ youth.
But as remarkable as she is, Asti also knows what it's like to feel invisible, even in the Upper East Side neighborhood she has called home since 1965.
"As an old person in New York City, I realize how invisible I am," she said. "The acknowledgement of me as me is lost. Nobody cares. I have a feeling of not being seen, and it's very hard to take."
That's partly why, as her legacy, she's created the the Cloud Dancers Foundation to help grant wishes to LGBTQ people as they age. The name comes from World War I pilots and Asti's own love of flying.
"You sit in an airplane, the next thing you want to do is fly it and feel it. It's so strong," Asti said. "That's where the name comes from — my personal experience and passion for flying airplanes."
Asti is hoping to raise $1 million through a GoFundMe campaign to grant wishes for people, especially seniors, who have faced discrimination because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Asti, a native New Yorker, has spent the coronavirus quarantine with her daughter, Coca, and her family in California, but can't wait to get back to Manhattan. The pandemic has suspended her flying lessons, so Asti spends her days trading stocks, another one of her passions.
She's also spent a fair amount of the lockdown "sleeping, doing nothing, but enjoying doing nothing," she laughed. "I've got many hours to think back on and to all the little things that happened. I have a wonderful family that I'm with."
Last year, Asti jumped in the cockpit with her fellow flight instructor Kate Kearny to fly over the Hudson Valley as part of her attempt to secure a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest, active, female-certified flight instructor and pilot. Later this month, Asti will go before the FAA to renew her pilot's license once again. The new one would expire in 2022.
"I'm so lucky, I am still qualified to teach flying," Asti said. "I will be 101 when I have to do it again. Maybe then I'll retire. Maybe. I'll see how I feel."