Madison, Wis. – July 1, 2006 - –An 80-year-old pilot, who has flown 572 Young Eagles, set a national high jump record at Wisconsin’s Badger State Games with a jump of 4-feet 1-inch.
The June 25th jump put Bill Wambach of Sun Prairie into the record books, bypassing the USA Track and Field masters mark by 1 inch in the 80- to 84-year-old division. While putting him in the limelight, he also put the Young Eagles program there, too, wearing his Young Eagles shirt during his record jump.
“I just wore it because it’s a nice red shirt,” he said, chuckling that EAA Young Eagles Executive Director Steve Buss had immediately noticed the shirt in the press photos. “Who knows, maybe it helped me to fly high.”
It wasn’t the first time Wambach has been up, up and away. As an athlete at Marquette University in the 1940s, Wambach said he was an “average high jumper” who once jumped as high as 6-feet 2-inches. “I earned my letter, but I didn’t do anything outstanding.”
He took a 40-year hiatus from high jumping, and then got talked into it by his son Bill after Bill first sent him an application for a master’s meet anonymously. That was 1979, and he’s been jumping since, occasionally setting records for his age along the way.
“It’s fun,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed competing.”
High jumping isn’t the only thing Wambach took a hiatus from. He was a naval aviation cadet during World War II and got his wings right after the war was over. “Sixty years later, I think I’m lucky the war ended when it did or I would have gotten killed,” he says. But once a civilian again, Wambach said he couldn’t afford to fly because of the high cost of life insurance for pilots.
When his youngest son graduated from college, however, the Wambachs found cash wasn’t as tight. He got his pilot’s license back in 1988 and has about 800 hours in the sky.
When the Young Eagles program began in 1992, Wambach was one of the first to volunteer. “I read about the program they were starting in the EAA magazine and thought it sounded like a good idea.”
So he made 15 copies of the article, and took the information to his flying club, to get others interested, too. Since 1992, the club – which owns a Cessna 152 and Cessna 172 — has flown more than 3,500 Young Eagles.
“It’s such a joy to fly kids,” he says. “They get such a kick out of it and get out of the plane all excited. They may not all become pilots, but at least they will always think of aviation as a positive thing.”
Wambach, a retired district highway engineer, says he didn’t do anything different to train for the track and field competition. “All year long, I do physical stuff like riding bike, playing golf, going cross-country skiing, or playing basketball. We also have a treadmill at our senior apartments, and I do stretching exercises every morning…”
Wambach registered for the competition on the last day, and the next morning the PR person for Badger State Games called and asked if she could put out a media alert that he was going for the record. “Within hours, I started getting phone calls,” Wambach recalls. “When I broke the record in the 75- to 79-year-old division all I got was one line in the Wisconsin State Journal. Maybe it was the fact that I was now the big 8-0. I don’t know.”
Articles appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Capitol Times, and the Wisconsin State Journal.
But all the media attention also made him extremely nervous. “The hype before was incredible. I was afraid I was going to blow it.”
So the Wambachs shut off the phone for three days, thinking the media was making too much of his attempt. “I had blown it back in October at the world senior games. Some days you have it and some days you don’t.”
But on that Sunday, he had it. With his family there, and those unable to be there “watching” via cell phone, he made the jump into the record book.
Wambach says he isn’t through jumping yet. “My wife, Lorette, asks why I just don’t quit, but I enjoy it so I’ll suppose she’ll let me,” he says.
He plans to compete next in the Wisconsin Senior Olympics, and hopefully qualify for next year’s national senior games in Louisville, Kentucky. “I’ve never won that before, but I been to it for the last 10 years. I’m lucky in that I have my health,” Wambach says modestly. “I’ve just outlived all the good guys who could beat me.”
Bill Wambach, high-flying Young Eagles pilot.
Young Eagles Pilot Bill Wambach on his record-setting attempt to set a national record.
Up and over…
Bill in his college his-jumping days at Marquette University.
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Wisconsin State Journal