Throughout his professional life, Berry participated in competitive sports and other activities.
Sigma Delta Psi National Athletic Honarary
When he was a graduate student at the University of Nevada, he performed a range of athletic tests including track, gymnastics and swimming to qualify for membership in the Sigma Delta Psi national athletic honorary. It is not an easy challenge. Very few people have achieved this level of athletic performance. Sigma Delta Psi members include Astronaut Ed White, Dr. Hatfield, super-athlete Norm Hoffman, Harvey Wray, Dr. Robert Gordon, Scott Hurley, Bill Ruschel, and Thomas Cureton.
So great was his interest in our atmosphere that while a graduate student, he learned to fly sailplanes under instructor Ed Blaylock with the Reno soaring club. They flew off Nevada’s dry lakes using an old Buick and a 2000 ft long steel cable to tow the sailplanes to 1200 feet above the dry lake. That way a tow cost us only $1.00.
At 1200 ft above ground, it was easy to catch strong thermals and soar for hours. Once he caught a strong thermal that gave a 4000 ft/minute upward ride to 16,000 ft ASL. At that altitude, he purposely exited the thermal because he did not have oxygen aboard. He also did ridge soaring using the updraft created when a wind blows against a hill.
That’s Berry flying the blue sailplane. In the distance is the dry lake where the club members took off and landed. Once, when he was soaring at 10,000 ft, an eagle arrived and soared just above his left-wing. To the eagle, he was just another bird. If it were not for convection currents moving heat up and thereby cooling the earth’s surface, these sailplanes would be on the ground.
One time, he was in a very strong updraft and got sucked up into a developing thunderstorm. It is like having a blanket dropped over your canopy. The sailplane had no gyro instrument to keep a pilot oriented. He knew this was a dangerous situation because one will go into a death spiral with no visibility and no gyro. So, he stalled the sailplane and put it into a spin, then waited a seemingly very long time to safely drop through the bottom of the cloud to watch the earth below spinning around. He spun for a good 1000 feet to get below the very strong updraft before recovering from the spin.
To top it off, as he approached landing on the dry lake, a gust front dust storm approached rapidly from the west. The dust engulfed he sailplane at about 100 feet above ground giving zero visibility. So, he just kept everything steady and waited for the wheel to touch the dry lake in a zero-zero landing. Once on the ground, he had to stay in the sailplane with brake on and “fly it” to keep it from blowing away. About 15 minutes later, he saw the headlights of vehicles slowly coming his way. These were the other sailplane pilots who had observed his predicament and were hoping to find his and the club sailplane in one piece.
Private Pilot, Instrument License
When Berry became chief scientist for the DRI aircraft research facility, he took power flight lessons from Tom Wells, DRI’s chief pilot, and got his license for power aircraft. Later, he got his instrument license. Tom Wells took this photo of him in Gerlach, Nevada, on his first cross-country flight.
While at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Berry took up small boat sailing in the nearby lakes. He accepted sailing as a challenge to his meteorological skill and athletic ability. His wife, Valerie, an excellent swimmer, was his crew. Together, they won almost all the championship races in North America for several years and the ultimate Canadian Olympic Training Regatta, CORK-Kingston, in 1974, the premier of all world sailing competition. Valerie became the first woman in the world to win a regatta first place in CORK-Kingston.
Below is his sailboat of many years ago, a Fireball. The Fireball is a 16.5 ft long, 220 pounds, centerboard with spinnaker, very competitive international class sailboat. Here he and Valerie are preparing for a race . This was a beautiful boat: built in England, stiff, and perfectly balanced. They have installed the spinnaker in its tube. Valerie is hooking up the jib. Their boat is like a sports car and it will easily beat the larger boat in the background. Notice the trapeze handles.
A prerequisite to winning in tough competition is not being afraid to go swimming. When you pop the chute in a 20-knot wind in a small boat like this you are sailing on the edge. If you are not willing and able to sail on the edge you will lose to those who do. If you are afraid to go swimming, you will sail too defensively and chances are you will go swimming. Valerie was good at high-performance centerboard sailing because she is an excellent swimmer and athlete and she was never afraid even in the wildest conditions. Once Berry took a macho motorboat guy for a ride on his Fireball in a 20-knot wind. Afterward, the motor-boater said it was the first time he had ever been scared on water.
This is after a race. You can tell it is after the race because the clouds give away the direction. The wind is a west wind aloft and a southwest wind on the lake. The view is to the south and the shadows show it is about 2 PM. Besides their hair is wet.
Ed and Valerie entered the US National Championship in Austin, Texas, in 1975. The word before the race was only local sailors can win because it takes years to understand the complicated wind on this lake. When Ed arrived in Austin a few days before the race series, his first stop was at the National Weather Service office where he discussed local weather with the lead meteorologist. Then they sailed the lake for two days so to observe how the wind came over the hills and down to the lake. After that, Ed felt he understood the wind on the lake as well as any local.
Here they are in US 7485, with Valerie on the trapeze just after a start in the Fireball National Championship in Austin, Texas. They have an excellent start and very tough competitors. They won this race and enough other races in this series to win the National Championship. During sailboat races, Ed says he sees wind indicators on the lake, shore and land, and he visualizes the wind flow around hills and other boats. Ed says he actually “sees” the wind during a race.
Ed and Valerie became Pacific Coast champions, National champions, and North American champions. In the premier event of all, the Canadian Olympic Regatta in Kingston (CORK), Ontario, they won Gold Medals. At CORK, they beat some Olympic competitors and Valerie became the first woman ever to win in such high-caliber sailing competition.
If you are going to win a national or world championship in a small centerboard sailboat, you must sail on the ragged edge in strong winds. If you chicken out, someone else will beat you. The only way to win such races is to go, as they say, “balls out” all the way.
Here’s a photo of Ed and Valerie taken from San Francisco’s St. Francis Yacht Club. This is the last leg of a race and they are more than 1/4 mile ahead of the fleet. How did this happen? The boats vary in speed by only a few percent.
They are far ahead because Ed saw a small change in the wave pattern on the bay that indicated the tide was shifting from ebb to flow during the first lap, so he departed from the fleet, seemingly losing his close first place. But when he and Valerie entered the new current, moving in the race direction, they picked up about 5 knots over the rest of the fleet … as Ed expected. Even on the second lap, his competitors did not catch on to how to use the tide change.
When the tide changes in the San Francisco Bay, it does not change everywhere at once. The new tide develops near the center of the Bay and then gradually expands to cover the whole Bay. Ed saw the new tide toward the center of the bay as evidenced by a slight change in the waves. His competitors saw only the tide near the shore where they were sailing. It was the biggest “horizon job” Ed and Valerie ever did on a fleet of expert sailors.
Berry prefers sailboats without heavy lead keels. He likes centerboards, catamarans, trimarans, and windsurfers. Sure, without the lead, you risk going swimming, but the thrill and the challenge is worth it. Since his Fireball, he has had a Hobie 17, a Hobie 18, windsurfers, and a Weta trimaran.
Running, Duathlons, and Triathlons
When in Sacramento, Berry did more running than sailing. He won several local 5 K races. He placed in the USA Top-10 in a four-weekend Duathlon of 5 K run – 25 K bike – 5 K run.
In the 2002 Pan Pacific Masters Games in Sacramento, he ran the 200 m, 400 m, 800 m, 1500 m and 5 K. He finished in the top three in all events. In the 2005 US Masters Nationals in Hawaii, he ran the 200 m, 400 m, 800 m and 1500 m and placed in the top three in all events.
Special thanks to Coach Mike Reid, American River College, Sacramento
At the beginning of the 2006 college track season, Coach Mike Reid (track coach for American River College in Sacramento) invited Ed to work out with his track team. To reciprocate, Ed coached some of his track team in math.
In March 2007, they went to an all-comers track meet at the University of California, Berkeley. On the advice of good Coach Mike, Ed focused on the 400 this day and stayed out of the 200 meter race.
Ed ran his 400 m race with the high-school teams … because there was no one his age to run against.
Before the race began, Ed told my friends, “Look, if I die out there, don’t cry for me. I would rather die here than in an old age home.” They laughed but he meant it.
The race committee gave him the inside (#1) lane where he could watch all the high school dudes leave him in their dust. Everyone but Ed used starting blocks. Ed said, starting blocks would not help him because it would use energy just to stand up.
The starting gun fired and they were off. The high school dudes disappeared in the distance. Ed said their speed “sucked” him along as he tried to keep up. They were finishing their 400 as Ed entered the straightaway for his final 100 meters.
Just as I was asking myself, “What am I doing in this race?”, the crowd in the stands saw me struggling to finish. It did not matter that I was the last dude in the race, or even that I was a white guy with a mostly black audience. They cheered me on and this made me run faster. I almost fell down as I rushed to the finish line … running as fast as my old legs would carry me.
After he recovered enough to walk around, he and Valerie checked with the race committee about his time. They electronically clocked Ed at 67 seconds which is only a few seconds off the US National record for the 70-74 age group.
However, and this is the moral of this story, Ed said,
Even if I had tied the National record, I still would have finished last. And that is putting it politely. Those high school dudes had enough time to interview on TV, eat a sandwich, and call their mother before I crossed the finish line. The moral is if you are 71 years old, forget about beating your high school track team. It’s impossible.
Flying an L-29 Jet
In May 2004, Berry tested my pilot skills in a Russian L-29 jet trainer. The instructor put him in the front seat and gave him the controls right after lift off.
Ed told the instructor the jet responded to the stick just like a sailplane he flew years ago, so he felt right at home. After putting 5000 feet between the plane and the ground, Ed did many very tight turns (sailplane like, over 60 degrees bank), keeping altitude, rolling out on pre-designated headings. He did multiple rolls and loops, all with excellent accuracy. Ed is a natural at aerobatics.
On the way back home, his instructor said, “I have never done this before on someone’s first ride but I am going to let you land it.” Ed asked him for an approach speed and landed the L-29 with no problem.
Afterward, his instructor said Ed’s very tight turns were excellent and these were the most challenging and dangerous of stunts.
Moved to Montana
Berry moved to Montana in 2008 and began a new life in a nice home on ten acres, 2 miles north of Flathead Lake. He mowed a 400 meter “summer” track in his backyard.
In 2013, he found a gym with a Concept 2 rower. After three months of workouts, and one month short of age 78, Berry rowed 500 meters on a Concept 2 in 1:46.3 to earn a 2014 world fourth place in the 70-79 age group, and second place in the world lightweight division.
Ed says the Concept 2 rower is the best exercise machine in a gym. It uses all your major muscles. It lets you max out in speed, strength and endurance. It’s safe and fun. If you haven’t rowed a Concept 2 rower, you should try it, he says.
Valerie and Ed enjoy living in Bigfork, Montana, and hiking in Glacier Park.