Thursday, April 16, 2015

Betsy Greene and Steve Boldin Love- Aloft


AU Lakes Zone Director, Lee Kohli
By Coop Kohli ( 


“It is incredible that somebody could actually pull that off”, I said to myself, reviewing what she had just told me.  It was cold and late at night in Ohio’s Amish country.  It had been a long day in the old store.  It had snowed.  My boots and feet were wet.  I was tired.  The day’s paper trail hadn’t been completed.  I wasn’t sure I heard her right, and I kept playing it over in my mind.  “This has got to be one of the craziest things I have ever heard of.”  I kept thinking.  “Is this guy incredibly gifted, or, is he just astonishingly lucky”, I wondered.  “What’s this say about this guy’s latent talent?  After all of these years, could I have done what he did?” I asked myself, as a little self-doubt began to creep in.

All of this intrigue was centered around an incredible story I had just heard about Steve Boldin, a 39 year old junior partner with Betsy Greene, in Love-Aloft, of Novelty, Ohio.  They had just pulled off an amazing feat, albeit one steeped deeply in study and thought.  Being an ardent student of national one-loft races, and having frequently watched (and scored) training data on-line of the 2008 World Ace Challenge, Steve saw something interesting about to fall through the cracks, and he quickly reacted.  “Mike, this is Steve.”  An urgent call was being made to Mike Gotthard at Boeing’s airplane factory in Wichita, Kansas.  “Alfons Klaas has a blue hen not activated for the WAC race, and the activation window closes in six hours.”  The great German fancier Alfons Klaas had won the South African Million Dollar Race in 2007, the year before.  Both men knew it.  “Mike, from what I can tell, the bird was out on one training toss, but it’s back.  All of its loft mates are activated.  You oughta do this one, Mike!”  Mike was hesitating, “What color is it?”  “It’s a blue.  I’ve seen her picture.  She’s beautiful”, Steve beckoned.  Mike Gotthard is no dummy.  He knew a blue Klaas bird had won the Million Dollar Race.  “If we’re living right, maybe they’ll be related”, he wished out loud.  

So Mike Gotthard, having been generously tipped off by Love-Aloft’s Steve Boldin, activated the bird alone, and went on to win “best average speed” at the 2008 World Ace Challenge with the little blue, Klaas hen that Steve had picked out for him, for the first of his two wins in as many years.


After having flown racing pigeons for only one old bird season, Betsy and Steve pulled off the win of a lifetime, cashing in to win the 2007 GNEO FUTURITY RACE in Akron, Ohio, USA, by nearly four minutes, beating out 86 lofts, and 1030 of the area’s best bred birds, and did it with an entry of only 6 pigeons.  Betsy wrote, “I’m told that new flyers don’t win races like the GNEO Open.  I think this win is a feather in the cap of all pigeon racers.  The rules are set up such that there is an equal opportunity to enter birds in a race and equal opportunity for birds to fly it.  The GNEO Open has been an adventure, and isn’t the lure of all adventure, the unexpected?  No one is more surprised than I!” 

In its recent cumulative history, there have been only 13 overall winners of the rich and nationally known GNEO Race, against a competitive field exceeding 1300 flyers and 13,000 birds.  This means that more than 99% of the area’s very best and most aggressive competitors who have thrown themselves at this race with extraordinary efforts to win it, have been stymied.  So, how is it that relative newcomers can win this great race after having flown for only one old bird season?  Is it luck?  Is anyone really that good, that fast? 


At the end of the 2007 old bird season, their very first, Love-Aloft had only one old bird remaining from its seven member old bird flying team.  In 2009, flying against 1615 birds and 133 lofts, and having entered only one bird,  Love-Aloft won the highly competitive Lake Section with a yearling cock, 462 IHC AU 08, clocking at 17:26:10 from 414 miles, at a speed of 1111 ypm.  Winning a section in an Ohio-Penn Federation race is tough for even experienced flyers with a normal entry of twelve birds.  It is exceptionally hard when you have been racing for only two years, and enter only one bird, but thinking of the great Belgian master, Maurice Caesart, who had twice won international races with a single entry, it had also been Steve Boldins long-time dream to send a single bird to a great race, and to win with that bird.  The Federation 400 was a perfect opportunity to try it.  So, the idea was floated.  The pair knew their birds, and after a little bit of back and forth, they reached agreement as to which of their fine racing specimens could do the job.  So, on that fateful shipping night, to the playful bantering and utter fascination of her fellow club members, Betsy Greene entered the hallowed clubhouse grounds with only a single bird to be countermarked.  “Yes, yes, it takes only one to win,” they howled humorously.  Most of these hard-core, old timers have been fine-tuning their racing programs for years.  Their teams are built up, and are highly experienced.  Their lofts have been modified and remodified to minimize effort and to maximize effectiveness.  Their genetics have been thoroughly tested and evaluated.  Most lofts even know what sex of their bloodline is most dependable, and from what distance.  Motivational systems have been sorted and tested.  Conditioning and health regimens are elaborate and specific.  So, it brings us back to where we started.  Against all of this professionalism, how is it that, sure enough, on report night (and to their complete amazement), the two “rookies” at Love-Aloft, had out-flown them all, to a man!       

You’re about to find out that loft management in Greene’s back yard is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, or thought about. Their racing philosophy is unusual, to say the least, and runs the spectrum all the way to bizarre, to say the most, but in the meantime they win, and like they say about tail-sign (versus eye sign), going in first is what counts in the final analysis.


Seasoned by fire, strengthened by faith, sophisticated by training, Betsy Greene is a 72 year old, retired, first grade school teacher, but don’t stereotype her; she is street-smart and tough, and if she wanted, could still eat most of us for breakfast!   (She could handle herself on any inner city playground, you might say.)  A widowed, single parent, that has lost one child, (with a second suffering the effects of MS), with a Masters Degree in Urban Education and a near Masters Degree in Philosophy, the extremely tested Mrs. Greene raised three daughters, and taught school in inner city Cleveland for fifteen years in one of the city’s most devastated, crime ridden neighborhoods.  (She is currently writing a book about her experiences.)  “It was the most difficult, and most important contribution I have ever made in this life, next to raising my own daughters”, said Mrs. Greene.  “The greatest gift I took away from teaching was the ability to know that I could always figure out a way.  There was nothing I couldn’t do if I set my mind to it.  So that is how I tackle every challenge, every problem in my life.  Since I have retired, my favorite challenge is pigeon racing.”  

“It’s not rocket science to know that good athletes are fed well, sleep well and train well.  If your own child were a talented, motivated athlete, what as a parent would you do to make sure the child met with success?  Whatever that is, is what you have to do for your birds, if you really want to win races.  You wouldn’t cut corners to save money and time, if you sincerely wanted to help your child.  You would find a way to do everything needed, and more.  That’s your investment in your own fun, and in their success.  When hugely successful flyers say that their wins involve enormous amounts of effort, it really does.  Being an old teacher and a single parent, I know also, that the effort has to be CONSISTENT; you can’t let up; excuses don’t win.  It’s never easy, but it can always be fun.” 


Betsy goes on, “How dare an Old Broad that has raced for only three seasons, think she is going to change pigeon racing, but at Love-Aloft, we try to do exactly that. Our birds are treated respectfully and affectionately.  We keep a manageable number of fifty birds.  We know all that it is possible to know about each bird, everyday. 

We don’t send birds to races that are on eggs or babies.  We don’t darken, or lighten, or feed light or train harshly.  We try to keep home the best place in the world to be: safe, airy, roomy, good food, clean water, exercise, treats, fun stuff to do including mates.  A bath every week is one of the favorites.  We do not make pets of our birds; we know that that interferes with their natural ability to survive.  We buy human grade roasted unsalted peanuts to add to their commercial mix during breeding and race season.  We add human grade popcorn, safflower and Australian peas, all year round.  The birds get all they want, always, but before they get more they have to finish the first serving, and that includes the barley.  Everyday we put a different food supplement in their fresh water: cider vinegar, yogurt, or other probiotics, vitamins, and electrolytes after a race.  We put brewers yeast and cod liver oil on the feed twice a week.  We worm individually and treat for canker individually, unless several show signs of disease.  We innoculate for PMV, Paratyphoid and Pox.       

Every bird gets its throat, mouth, breathing and wings checked every day it is basketed, or if it looks stressed.  Pest strips go up in May, perch oil is used if they stomp, and poop is observed (including to whom it belongs), while we are inside the loft each day.  We make sure our birds get a good night’s sleep every night.  If we have an edge, it is being as near to perfect health and happiness, as we can provide.  As a deterrent to Cooper’s Hawks, we put peanuts-in-the-shell out for Jays and Crows.  They hang out all day cracking the peanuts and screeching at intruders.  We use commercial, mineral fortified red grit, and Pic Pots from Belgium.  When the birds aren’t flying we provide occupational therapy; my theory being that a bird busy doing important birdie things is happier than a bird pining to be free.  The birds play with dry tall grasses from the yard, wheat grass from the health food store, fresh washed organic spinach, candy from Foy’s, and tobacco stems.  And, the Old Lady plays them classical music while she scrapes.”      

“We take turns training, but Steve baskets.  We administer meds and vaccinations together when an entire section needs to be done.  I’m all about single tossing, and he’s not.  So we compromise.  We’re both about never asking too much from the birds when we train.  They don’t move to the next ten mile distance until they return promptly without panting from the first distance.  We repeat a distance until it is conquered.  We might lose a bird or two to a hawk during a toss, but we have never lost part or most of our race teams. 

Last year, it took our young ones so long to get in shape that we shipped only the last two races; they weren’t ready.  I got some pressure from the club guys about babying my birds; none of them placed ahead of us in the GNEO, and none of ours were lost on a training toss.  What does that tell you?  I don’t argue; I don’t rationalize; I know that I know what works for us.  The proof is in the pudding.  Although we had little to show for young birds, we kept our team intact for old birds, and we both agreed that we’d rather have our team intact than a diploma in a file box.  We didn’t push them, nor did we baby them.”  


Thirty-nine year old Steve Boldin developed an interest in pigeons as an eleven year old working in the Poultry Building at the Great Geauga County Fair (east of Cleveland).  Befriended by two-time World Ace Challenge winner, Mike Gotthard, who had a Racing Homing Pigeon exhibit there, they have been friends ever since; and even today, twenty years and a thousand miles later, they talk about pigeons nearly every single day.  Betsy continued, “Before he moved to Boeing in Kansas, Mike helped Steve build his first loft.  When Mike left, our local guys were terrific; Hank Tallcott, Gene Swanson, Jim Hazek,  and others, whose names I do not know, would stop by a young Steve’s loft to drop off a bag of feed they didn’t need or a bag of grit; they had too much and thought he might could use it.  My favorite is Jim, who brought Steve an STB wooden clock (the kid didn’t have one) because Jim’s new clock was the wrong color; he would buy another one that he liked better! Steve’s mother always said the pigeons kept Steve out of trouble; she encouraged his interest.”

“I call Steve the Bird Whistler.  “He has a gift when it comes to pigeons; it’s uncanny.  He’s not afraid to say he loves them.  I know the birds trust him; it has happened that birds that flee a hawk attack, fly directly to Steve.  His skills of observation are acute; he notices and remembers everything.  He is always interested in races: who the winning birds are, their lineage, and who owns them.  Mike Gotthard instilled in him long ago that a good bird is not about its color, or even how it handles; what matters most is how well it flies.  Four years ago, Steve and I shared our loft duties.  When I would offer extra help, he would say, “this isn’t work, Betsy; I like doing it,” and he meant it. Now he does most of the hard work alone.  I am the substitute loft guy; the old lady’s physical prowess declines exponentially with each passing year.”


“I went to visit friends once.  Just inside their front door two pigeons stared up at me from a USPS shipping crate.  Unafraid, those four dark eyes followed me.  That’s all it took.  I was hooked.  I loved everything about them, especially their wide set eyes and their gentle demeanor.  I could not put them out of my mind.  Love-Aloft began from there.”

“My thanks to the kindest, most courteous flyers I know: Mike Gotthard, Dan Romanski, and my fellow club members of the North East Racing Club.  These same NERC guys who were so good to that young flyer so many years ago, were equally good to the old lady who wanted to fly with them just three years ago.  I took them coffee and cake, and they plied me with their pigeon experience.  We continue to have Pigeon Parties after every Report night.  Unusual wonderful experiences have come our way since we started to care for the pigeons.  The coincidences are uncanny.  I’m thinking maybe they were not coincidences, but Someone Else’s plan we are cooperating with.  I don’t know.  I think it is important to make this world a better place because we’re in it, so I do.  I do know that the pigeons are special.  I am loving every minute of it.”  Aren’t we lucky?”    

Left, Betsy Greene; middle, Steve Bolden; right, the author, Lee Kohli.

There isn’t anything left for me to say.  Our Champion has said it all.  Betsy Greene is a very special person, and her focus is very intense when she has an important subject before her.  Besides the unfinished book, her other urgent, current project is to learn as much about MS as she can.  (“One out of eight persons up north has the disease, the same statistics as breast cancer.”)  Get to know her.  She would love to hear from you on that, or any other pigeon related topic.  Her website is Her e-mail address is  We’ll be hearing more about the very successful Love-Aloft again soon, and it will be another interesting story to tell.