Winging it for the home team


A Tulsa man whose pigeons helped him rebuild his life is the organizer of an annual benefit race.
It's hardly noticeable when John Lamberton shakes hands with his left arm instead of his right.
His aplomb hides his handicap, a barely mobile right arm injured while calf-roping at age 16 on his family's 400-acre
ranch in west Tulsa. The accident broke bones throughout Lamberton's body. While his high-school friends planned
for college, he was home relearning how to eat, dress and bathe. That's when Lamberton really took to tending pigeons.
Decades later, those homing pigeons are his livelihood. He breeds, trains and sells homing pigeons groomed to race others
home from unfamiliar places hundreds of miles away. Much as a pigeon's unique sense guides it, the birds led Lamberton
to organize Blue Skies, an annual pigeon race. Nearly 100 sponsored pigeons participated in this year's race Sunday
afternoon, which with a silent auction raised money for the Center for Counseling and Education. The center is a nonprofit
faith-based organization that offers pastoral counseling, done by people with graduate training in both religion and
behavioral science. Fees for the services are based on income and family size. People of all beliefs are welcome.
The center is expanding to meet the area's growing demand for therapy, especially with marriage and family issues.
"(After the accident) I was learning the most basic things over again," Lamberton said, standing in his pigeon coop, where
the birds' cooing sounded like bubbling water. "The pigeons led me to Blue Skies and helped me learn about life."
Lamberton flew into pigeon-racing with vigor. He studied its history and myriad techniques and eventually went to
Belgium, where he said the sport of pigeon-racing originated. He keeps 100 pigeons in Belgium and 300 at
his home, Lookout Mountain Ranch in west Tulsa.

The pigeons in the race were originally scheduled to fly to Tulsa from Oklahoma City, but gray skies shortened their travels.
To put these pigeons in the air for that long with little at stake is risky with such expensive birds, Lamberton said, adding that
a top racing pigeon can cost up to $150,000. His pigeons live in pairs in small cage boxes, although they are free to roam
about the coop. A young pigeon stays in one box with its lifelong mate, an older, better-trained pigeon of the opposite sex.
The younger pigeon does the racing. Lamberton said he removes the mate days before a competition, hoping to incite desire
in the flying bird to spur it to come home more quickly. The first pigeon home is the winner. Time is logged with computer
chips strapped on the birds' legs. Each pigeon must return to its coop and walk across scanners that log its arrival time.

Homing pigeons have come a long way since they were first believed to be used as message carriers around 1150 in Baghdad.
They were also used during both world wars. Some research shows that pigeons navigate by Earth's magnetic field.
Other scientists have found that they use roads and various man-made construction as landmarks.