Hitting 300: Roller coaster fan is unstoppable

Luna Park’s Thunderbolt has turned 10 and roller coaster enthusiast Frances Helquist is celebrating both its birthday and riding it 300 times.

Helquist, 18, is a rides operator at the park and has been a fan of the coaster for years. However, thrill rides weren’t always her passion.

“I was always afraid of roller coasters,” she told this paper. “I wouldn’t even do the baby rides. It wasn’t until a visit to this other amusement park when I got peer pressured by my cousins to do the big rides and that’s really how my love for roller coasters started.”

Helquist at the coaster. Photos courtesy of Luna Park

Following that experience, she wanted to overcome her fear and go on a coaster that she had always seen growing up, but was too scared to go on. In 2019, she finally went on the Thunderbolt at age 13.

“When I first rode it and got off, I was wowed,” Helquist said. “I was amazed because it was just super thrilling. My dad got on it when it first opened and he was like, ‘It made me so dizzy.’ When I tried it, I could see what he meant but it’s a really good roller coaster.”

Her climb to 300 started slowly. Before the COVID pandemic, she rode it a few times during trips to Coney. However, in 2022 she ramped up the count by going on the ride many times as she noticed how coasters worked and studied their mechanics.

Photos courtesy of Luna Park

“I just thought Zamperla [amusement rides company] did such a great job making the ride,” Helquist said. “With other roller coasters, they have really good elements and start out exciting but towards the end, they die out. But I feel with Thunderbolt, it’s got really great pacing and you just never really slow down. Some of its elements are my favorite.”

Last summer, she worked at the New York Aquarium and was able to ride the coaster often due to her proximity. She used an app called Log Ride to help count the number of times she got on. The most she got on the ride in one day was 36 times.

Helquist at the coaster. Photos courtesy of Luna Park

“That was like my glory year,” she said.

Photos courtesy of Luna Park
Photos courtesy of Luna Park

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