Teaser: At 80, he biked the 100-mile Florida Keys to keep starting each decade with another athletic feat.
Right up front, know that Jack LaBombard ’63 does not always take himself seriously.
Yes, that Jack LaBombard, one of the top high school wrestling coaches in New York state history with more than 390 victories for Queensbury’s Spartans in his storied 38-year career.
Nowadays he takes a lighter view of his latest achievements.
“I tell my stories and I laugh at myself,” said LaBombard of Queensbury, N.Y., the 2012 SUNY Cortland C-Club Hall of Famer who currently chairs the C-Club Hall of Fame Committee organizing the university’s annual athletic blockbuster celebration. This year’s event takes place on April 30.
“There’s no rhyme or reason, I just have fun and do things,” says LaBombard, often and emphatically, when he’s referring specifically to his string of forays into feats other than his acclaimed sport, including mountain climbing, bicycling, skiing and other recreational activities.
- Completing the Adirondack 46 high peaks before he turned 60? Check. “I think I waited a whole year to make it official,” he said.
- Returning to those northern New York pinnacles at age 70 to summit Mount Marcy solo? Check. “Actually in hindsight, I made a big mistake going by myself,” LaBombard said. “I jumped over Marcy Brook and fell in.”
- Marking his 80th birthday milestone by biking the famous route encompassing the 100-plus mile Florida Keys? Check.
“I’m going to bike the Florida Keys,” LaBombard announced last September at his 80th birthday.
The retired teacher, school administrator and coach who upon retiring at Queensbury came back out of retirement twice to help other districts with their wrestling programs — Schuylerville (N.Y.) High School and Lake George (N.Y.) High School in conjunction with Hadley-Luzerne High School — recalls the immediate response of his sister-in-law, Stephanie.
“I’m going with you,” she said. No surprise there. Stephanie is always game for a downhill ski at Gore Mountain or another Adirondack ski center with him.
“I didn’t know anything about this bike route. I thought, ‘I’ll just get on a bicycle and go,’” said LaBombard, who at a considerably younger age on a similar whim had bike across the state from Buffalo to Saratoga Springs.
“I said, ‘I’m going to bike the Florida Keys in two 50 mile days,’ LaBombard said. “And she said, ‘No, we’re going to do three days and stop to swim and drink beer.’
“I said, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘We’re going to hire a tour guide.’ I said ‘We don’t need a tour guide. We’ll just get on our bikes and go south.’ She said, ‘What if we get a flat tire?’ She kept after me and I caved in.”
Stephanie was right, LaBombard noted. The guide service he found on the internet worked out just great, especially one day on that bike tour, when the debris-littered roadway popped the bike tires on the two companions and their guide six times between them. The second guide following along in a car with them had everything needed to fix the flat tires each time. So instead of grief, each day was loaded with memorable stops to sightsee or snorkel or visit a pub or restaurant with guide Mark Terrell giving an ongoing tour guide spiel of landmarks along the way.
Starting out from Key Largo in the upper Florida keys headed south to Key West where their guides had parked their rental car, LaBombard and his sister-in-law maintained a leisurely pace. LaBombard’s heart bypass surgery about seven years ago has crimped his hiking style but not his downhill skiing, biking and boating activities.
Not every trip detail was scripted. Among the way, when LaBombard’s ancient biking shoes gave out, he mended them with duct tape and kept right on pedaling.
It turns out that LaBombard and the two guides in their mid to late 50s, Patrick Fitzgerald and Mark Terrell, had a mutual wrestling connection. LaBombard spotted a bike shirt naming Danny Mack Gable, the retired University of Iowa wrestling coach and famed Olympic gold medalist, hung in the window of tour guides’ bike repair shop.
“In my career Gable and I crossed paths a number of times and knew each other,” LaBombard said. Perhaps they met when LaBombard was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“This shirt was hanging there and all these wrestling books. I said to Stephanie, ‘This is crazy, but I probably know these guys.’
“So we met at the hotel and after we talked business, I asked ‘Who’d you know and who’d you wrestle?” said LaBombard.
“We had a lot in common. That was just a crazy connection,” said LaBombard, stating what is perhaps the story of his life.