WILLOWS, Calif. Silently soaring with eagles, on the wings of a glider powered only by gravity and rising thermal air pockets, is euphoric, according to Bishop Gary Kemp of the Willows Ward, Chico California Stake.
"It's as close to being a bird as I'll ever get," he said during a Church News telephone interview.
The euphoria has kept him in the air much of the time during the past 38 years, ever since a Disney Wonderful World of Color TV program sparked his interest. Through the years, he has been heavily involved in soaring, with service including director of the Soaring Society of America and as coach of the U.S. team in 2001 world competition in South Africa.
With a lofty level of experience, as well as national and regional leadership stints, he now has some pull with fellow enthusiasts. He uses it to encourage organizers of competitions, which extend over several days, to make Sunday a "rest day." He has met with good success, he said, in regional and national contests that can last from 5 to 10 days. He said he notices a slight trend in which an increasing number of soaring competitors are embracing the "rest day" and hopes it gains momentum over the three more years he plans to compete.
Of Mormon pioneer stock, he was born in Southern California. He moved north to pursue his education career in rural communities. He retired as superintendent of the Willows School District.
Bishop Kemp stayed grounded for two years while serving a mission in Fiji with his wife, Nancy, where they helped students in pursuit of teaching certificates. But now, at age 68, he is regularly back in the sky and competing.
After getting the task for a day's competition, he climbs into his cockpit and is towed by an engine-powered plane into the sky and then let loose. "It's challenging," he said of the sport. "There's a dozen decisions every minute that you're flying."
The traditional method of using ground landmarks to chart a course has given way to onboard computers and global positioning satellite devices. Either way, the flyer with the best combination of distance and speed gets the highest score with other competitors receiving points relative to the winner's. The total points of the several days of racing determines the overall winner.
Bishop Kemp has had his share of victories and is a top-ranked glider pilot, but Sunday "rest days" are vital to him because he won't race on Sunday. If bad weather or other circumstances force organizers to rescind the day off, he knows the consequences: "I have to take a zero." That means no chance for victory.
"I understand that going in," he said. "But in the eternal scheme of things, that's not that important."
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