Strength. Speed. Agility. Flexibility. Concentration. These are some characteristics often associated with ultimate athletic performance. But the foundation of all athletic qualities is durability. Upon endurance these attributes may come to fruition. This story is about toughness.
Late afternoon March 14, 1981, a passerby brought in a strange-looking pigeon that he picked up sitting on the edge of the Old Olympic Highway near my clinic. The bird looked alert and made no attempt to escape capture, prompting the man to describe it as seemingly "out of gas."
Upon examination, the pigeon showed no signs of injury. Its breast musculature was modestly concave, suggesting some degree of malnutrition and/or dehydration. The bird was a brownish-tan color with an unusual purplish cere resembling no wild or domestic variety with which I was familiar.
On one leg were two bands, one silver with several numbers and the other red and white with oriental letters. I rehydrated the patient with injectable fluids and took it to a local pigeon fancier named Alice Stoican.
She housed and fed the bird and within two or three days it was flying and acting normally within its avian enclosure. She next took the information from the bands and with some research determined our foundling to be a racing pigeon released during a competition along the coast of southern Japan on March 10.
The amazed owner speculated the bird had been swept offshore by prevailing trade winds and, instead of fighting, it went with the flow to fly presumable nonstop across the Pacific Ocean.
A direct airline flight from Seattle to Tokyo, Japan, is 4,776 miles. The point of the bird's release was about 200 miles south of Tokyo while Sequim is less than 100 miles from Seattle, as the pigeon flies. So our avian wonder flew about 4,500 miles in approximately four days. That averages more than 1,000 miles daily or about 50 mph. Since a pigeon's top flight is roughly 30 mph, it is obvious our athlete's performance was wind-aided.
Surprisingly, this was not the first racing pigeon recovered in our area from Japan.
About one year earlier a similar incident was documented and given considerable press in our local newspapers. So this particular pigeon did not receive the notoriety it surely deserved.
However, more than 25 years later, these remain the only two such incidents of which I'm aware. Besides being strong and durable, there may be another important aspect to any athlete's success. A little luck never hurts.
Dr. Jack Thornton is a semiretired veterinarian. Reach him in care of firstname.lastname@example.org.
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