Fundraiser a feather in Rotary Club’s cap

Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick Amanda Seaburn releases one of Steve Pronai’s racing pigeons. Pronai is organizing a race among six central Ohio racing clubs to benefit charitable causes supported by the London Rotary Club.
Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Amanda Seaburn releases one of Steve Pronai’s racing pigeons. Pronai is organizing a race among six central Ohio racing clubs to benefit charitable causes supported by the London Rotary Club.

(Posted Sept. 18, 2014)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

London Rotary Club’s next fundraiser is for the birds.

The annual Rotary Pigeon Race takes place the weekend of Sept. 27. Yes, it involves real pigeons and, yes, they race.

Steve Pronai, a London resident, Rotary member and Madison County prosecutor, has raced homing pigeons since childhood when his dad introduced him to the hobby. For each of the last several years, he and his fellow hobbyists have set aside one race to benefit the Rotary Club.

Here’s how it works. Anyone can “buy” a bird. Tickets are $50 each. Purchasers are assigned birds by a blind draw. Those whose birds place in the top three win cash prizes. The prize amounts depend on the number of tickets purchased. Up to 100 tickets will be sold.

“I’ll probably put all of my available ‘soldiers’ in the race,” said Pronai, who owns 24 racing pigeons and is a member of the Buckeye pigeon racing club. Members of his club and five other clubs in central Ohio also will enter birds in the race.

Each bird wears a scannable electronic leg band loaded with their identification information. The birds are driven to Corbin, Ky., approximately 200 miles from London, where they are let loose. They then fly back to their respective home roosts as quickly as they can.

Upon arriving home, the birds “check in” on computerized scanning pads that record their exact arrival time. Because the distance between the starting point and each home roost isn’t the same, the winning birds aren’t necessarily the ones that arrive home first. Instead, it’s all about rate of speed—whose bird traveled more yards per minute.

“They average about 40 miles per hour” Pronai said. “With the wind at their backs, they can get up to 60 to 65 miles per hour. With the wind in their face, it could be 20 to 25.”

As for how the birds find their way home, Pronai said no one really knows.

“They’re born with the instinct to ‘come home.’ Some say it has to do with Earth’s magnetic field and the sun,” he said.

To prepare a bird to race, Pronai said he starts them young. As soon as they’re able to fly, he takes them on progressively longer training runs, starting first with a release five to 10 miles from home. When they hit 60 miles, they’re ready to race.

And the care they receive is top-notch, including a daily vitamin regimen and special feed.

“They’re like athletes. They have to be in great shape,” Pronai said.

The United States is home to over 20,000 people who race pigeons. The hobby is experiencing huge growth now in China, where one racer recently spent a record $540,000 for one bird.

Most of the races Pronai enters are simply for fun, he said, though some come with cash prizes, too, usually $1,000 to $2,000. The biggest payout in the United States is $100,000 at a race held in Texas. The biggest payout worldwide is $1 million for a race held in South Africa.

Pigeon Race Festivities and Ticket Info

Pronai will host Rotary Pigeon Race festivities at his home, 115 Country Ridge Lane in London, 9 a.m.-noon Sept. 27. Ticket buyers are welcome to attend with their families. Brunch food and beverages will be served.

The event will feature a mini pigeon race in which pigeons are released 30 miles out and return back to their roost in Pronai’s backyard. (The actual 200-mile race will take place Sept. 28. Return times on longer races can vary widely and therefore aren’t conducive to group observation.)

Tickets are $50. To buy a ticket, contact any Rotary member or call: Greg King, (740) 506-0149; Mary Ann Webb, club president, (937) 763-5720; Misty Bradley, (740) 852-3001; or Teresa Ames, (740) 506-1090.

Additionally, Rotary is selling 50/50 raffle tickets for $1 each or $5 for six.

Proceeds go to causes supported by Rotary, including adult basic literacy, food pantries, scholarships and leadership training for high school students, health care needs, Junior Achievement, 4-H and youth sports. Rotary also supports international causes, including polio eradication and youth exchange programs.

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