Friday, December 08, 2006

More on Manilla and Paragliding

  • Photo: Bill Thurtell, a 73 year old paraglider.

In my post on Manilla and the Paragliding World Championships I talked about the role of Godfrey Wenness in developing Manilla as the centre of paragliding in Australia. Local postman Bill Thurtell was one of those influenced by Godfrey's work.

Looking up and seeing the sky peppered with paragliders in his hometown of Manilla, Bill was jealous.

On those good weather days blessed with the perfect flying conditions the town has a worldwide reputation for, Bill would look up and wonder.

“I’d see them all up there and I was amazed, and thought: ‘Gee I’d like to be able to do that’,“ Bill recalled.

So, Bill turned up one Saturday to do the paragliding course at the Manilla Sky Sailors Club. Being 68 years old was absolutely no deterrent.

That was five years ago. Now at 73, Bill tries to get out most weekends for a paraglide. He is proud to be the oldest paraglider pilot in Australia, particularly because his hometown is preparing to host the FAI Paragliding World Championships next February.

Bill is a pretty active bloke – he’s also the town’s postman and works as a doorman at the RSL Club in the evenings. He has had a quadruple heart bypass and suffers from some old football injuries but once he’s flying, none of this matters.

“I was a bit apprehensive at first because of my age, and weak ankles from my football days,” he admitted, “but once you’re up there this gets pushed out of your mind pretty quickly because you have to focus on other things!”

Bill admits he’s not as fit as he’d like to be which can be an issue in terms of the distance he has to walk back to the support vehicle once he lands.

When he’s out doing his mail run he often acts an impromptu support vehicle, picking up pilots from roadsides and running them back to the mountain for another flight.

Bill is trying to encourage his two granddaughters to take up the sport.

“Their mother – my daughter – keeps coming up with excuses for them not to do it!” he laughed.

Bill is a member of the World Championships organising committee and while there’s no competition category for “senior” pilots, he is looking forward to being a spectator and enjoying the buzz around town.

“This event is going to be great for Manilla and great for the sport itself as well,” he said.

The 10th FAI Paragliding World Championships will run from February 23 to March 10, drawing 150 pilots from 50 different countries, and an anticipated audience of between 3,000 and 5,000.

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