ENCINITAS — Bill Albers began his day as usual with an early morning walk. Four blocks from his house in Encinitas, Albers was overcome with fatigue, shortness of breath and pain shooting through his arm. After half an hour hunched over the sidewalk, he was able to walk home.
When he arrived at the hospital with his wife, he received the news that he was suffering a heart attack. He underwent a quintuple heart bypass the following day. “I went to sleep that Friday and didn’t wake up until Sunday night,” Albers said. He was 59 years old.
The events of that fall day in 1987 seemed a world away as Albers, now 80 years old, pulled on his Naval Academy beanie cap and prepared to run his first New York Marathon Sunday on Nov. 2.
One of his five children traveled with her family from Boston to cheer her father on. Cynthia Tipton said that her father’s determination was an inspiration. “I wanted my kids to see their grandfather accomplish such a tremendous feat,” she said. “He ran two more before this one. His first one was at age 70,” she said. “Not bad, huh?”
Jogging through New York’s five boroughs, Albers said he felt exhilarated. “The spectators were very encouraging,” he recalled. “I loved it, it was such a high.”
In fact, thousands of spectators lined the streets to support the 37,899 athletes who ultimately finished the race. Tipton said the logistics of finding her father in the crowd of runners was difficult. “We kept wondering if we missed him or if he was coming every time we stopped at a new location,” she said. The family was able to see him at miles 15 and 25.
After 5 hours, 50 minutes, Albers crossed the finish line. “I felt great,” he said. “I just motored around, it was pretty easy.” He placed second among runners 80 and older.
After graduating from the Naval Academy with a degree in electrical engineering, Albers became a pilot, flying approximately 25 missions in Vietnam. His unit was called the “Ghost Squadron” because of the secretive nature of the assignments. Dropping sensors to enable traffic moving from North Vietnam to the south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail was risky Albers said. He received a Presidential Citation for his efforts.
One of Albers’ sons, Chris, said he was proud of his father’s athletic accomplishment, especially in the face of his past health problems. “There is a renewed sense of purpose in my own life to get healthier,” he said. Chris, 45, had an angioplasty three years ago with a total of seven stints inserted into his heart. “It inspires me and gives me hope that I’ll be around for my own kids,” he said.
Albers is more matter of fact about his motivation to run and his success in life. “I set a goal and I accomplish it and it feels good,” he explained. “I’m just happy to be 80 and in good health.”