Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 16, 2006
When Greenville native Bill Broach was flying Boeing 727 airplanes all over the United States, he never imaged that he would one day be a power weightlifting champion.
He also never imaged that he would suffer a stroke at the age of 57.
Broach, 59, now resides in Lillian, Ala., but was born at the Stabler Clinic in Greenville in 1947 and moved away with his family when he was 8 years old.
After leaving Greenville, Broach graduated from the Marion Military Institute in 1966, served in the Navy as a pilot and graduated from Louisiana State University in 1975.
Broach made a career out of his military service, but not by staying in the military.
Broach became a pilot, flying Boeing 727 cargo planes, and loved his profession.
Just as every pilot has many routines, he was on a routine flight from San Diego to Denver and then to Toledo, with Broach flying the last leg, when he realized something wasn't right.
With his vision blurring and his depth perception fading, Broach missed the runway in Toledo and had to fly around and try the landing again.
“(My career) wasn't going to end like that,” Broach said. “I was going to make that last landing.”
After telling his fellow crewmembers to take the controls if they felt something wasn't right, Broach safely landed the aircraft, but it wasn't pretty.
“It was ugly,” Broach said of the landing. “But we made it.”
Sadly, on that night, Broach also landed his career.
After consulting with a doctor, Broach flew home and discovered he had suffered a stroke.
A few days earlier, while digging and moving dirt in temperatures nearing 100 degrees, Broach said he also experienced dizziness and loss of vision.
“My vision was blurred and, although I didn't realize it at the time, it was because my eyes were crossed,” Broach said jokingly.
Although the stroke cost him his career, left him partially blind, forced him to have to relearn some vocabulary, math skills and coordination, Broach remains upbeat, full of determination and purpose in life.
As part of his rehabilitation following the stroke, Broach went to the gym, as he had always done in his life.
Concerned that doing something strenuous may re-injure his brain, Broach approached his doctor about getting back into the gym.
“He said ‘Bill,' nothing bad happens in the gym,'” Broach said.
So Broach went back to working out.
“I told myself, ‘I'm not taking this lying down,” Broach said.
One day while working out at his usual spot in the Navy gym in Pensacola, Fla., Broach said some friends began encouraging him to compete in weightlifting events.
Determined that he could do it, Broach began training and seven weeks later competed in his first professional event.
And he won.
At the RAW Powerlifting Federation's recent event in Elizabeth City, N.C., Broach won first place in the Master's Division, consisting of men over the age of 50, by benching 275 pounds.
The press also earned Broach an Alabama record.
The reason Broach said he was drawn to RAW is because RAW is a clean organization in which the athletes are drug-tested and not allowed to wear straps, wraps, gloves or power shirts.
“It's just you and the bar,” Broach said.
Next summer, Broach said he is hoping to try at the world record of 350 pounds at the event in Atlanta.
He also hopes that by lifting weights, he can lift some spirits.
“I want to reach out and give people a hand because when one of these things hit you like a stroke or a heart attack, you don't know if you are going to live or die,” Broach said. “I want people to see that if this guy can do this at 59, I can do it too.”