ENCINITAS — Bill Albers began his day as usual with an early morning walk. Four blocks from his house, 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 served as motivation for Albers, now 82 years old, to increase his level of exercise and overall health. “I’ve run three marathons and lost count of all the half marathons,” he said.
With the support and encouragement of his family, he began competing in 5K and 10K races shortly after his surgery. Then, in 1998 he finished the Rock & Roll Marathon in San Diego. “I saw it as a challenge, I said ‘hey let’s try it.’”
“It was a real sense of accomplishment,” he said of crossing the finish line of his first marathon. “It was a significant goal.”
But that wasn’t enough for the retired Naval Commander. “I ran the second marathon in 2000 just because I wanted to see if I could do it,” Albers said. “And I did.” In fact, he finished with a faster time than the first.
“Nowadays, since I’m 82, I’m just wanting to finish it (the race),” he said. He took second place in his age group in the prestigious New York Marathon in 2008. “Some Frenchman beat me out,” he said with a chuckle.
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.
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?”
After 5 hours, 50 minutes, Albers crossed the finish line. “I felt great,” he said. “I just motored around, it was pretty easy.”
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. Albers has suffered two strokes since his bypass operation but it hasn’t slowed him down much. “I keep running, the doctor says it’s OK,” he said. “I run four to five days in the neighborhood by myself.”
“Running has to be done for my health,” Albers said, “whether I’m training for a race or not.”
He encourages people to get up and walk every day if they can. “It’s just like the Nike ads say, ‘Just do it.’”
His goal is to finish the 2011 Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Half Marathon in less than three hours, a feat he has accomplished in all seven of his Carlsbad Half Marathon finishes. “Running is keeping me going,” he said.