Meet Challenger, a bald eagle whose soaring skills are in high demand
By Samantha Drake | Special to the Washington Post
PHILADELPHIA — The first big cheer at Lincoln Financial Field occurred when the Philadelphia Eagles ran onto the field. The second roar came during “The Star-Spangled Banner” — when an actual eagle swooped around the stadium.
The feathered one was a bald eagle named Challenger, and he is a big deal. The 28-year-old rescue bird is trained to free-fly to the national anthem, a feat he has performed at more than 350 public events over the past two decades.
Among them: More than 80 NFL regular season games, three NFL Pro-Bowl All-Star games, the NCAA National College Football Championship, 11 World Series games, dozens of regular season Major League Baseball games and the Indianapolis 500.
Michelle Bauer and Spencer Williams of the American Eagle Foundation ride an elevator with Challenger to an upper deck at Lincoln Financial Field before a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys. (Eileen Blass/For the Washington Post)
When bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007, Challenger was there. When Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were each inaugurated for the first times, Challenger — a firmly nonpartisan patriot — appeared at the concerts held afterward.
“We don’t pick between Democrats and Republicans,” said his trainer, Al Cecere, the president and chief executive of the American Eagle Foundation. “Challenger represents all Americans.”
Keeping up with all this demand requires an impressive entourage and a strict schedule.
Cecere and four other humans travel with the bird to care for him, coordinate with organizers and film his flights. The Tennessee-based team is on the road nearly every week except in the summer, when Challenger is molting and isn’t looking his best.
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Source:: The Mercury News – Sports