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Parents of Jos Thoné (As, BE) are involved in pigeon racing on a daily basis: “Pigeon racing keeps us young and fit”

Jos Thoné and pigeons, they sound like two synonyms. The achievements of his athletes are known across more than 80 countries. It raises the question of whether there is anything left to talk about regarding the career of this pigeon racing champion. Jos gave us a surprising answer: "How about you come and see how pigeon racing is keeping my parents young and fit."

Gerard Thoné (83) and his wife Tilly Vandewal (82) live next to their son Jos, the professional pigeon fancier from As in Limburg. And tthey are actively involved in the sport as well, as Jos explains: "I want to put my parents in the spotlight, and not just because they get a lot of work done in the loft. They are first of all two special people. I would like to stress that it is their active involvement in pigeon racing that keeps my father and mother young and full of life. This is a big advantage, and I would advise it to anyone of their age: they are both living an active lifestyle filled with meaningful activities, which really makes their daily lives much more fulfilling." Jos would describe their involvement in the loft as follows: "Pigeons have been an integral part of my childhood life. My father and mother were obsessed with them, and they still are. They are in fact my most valued assistants today. And they have made me just as determined as they were. Never give up, and keep working until everything is perfect.”


Gerard and Tilly on their diamond wedding anniversary

The book “Jong blijven en oud worden” (staying young while growing older) of the Dutch professor Marcel Olde Rikkert clearly describes the art of growing old while still staying young. “And his book describes exactly what my parents are going through”, Jos Thoné explains. They are always working for and with our pigeons, and this gives them so much joy. Take it from me: pigeon racing is keeping my parents in excellent health.”

We meet his father Gerard in “his” workplace, the room where he meticulously builds hand-made tools and equipment for pigeons, including shelves, nest boxes and special feeding trays, all made to measure. It is no surprise that Gerard spends almost every single day in his workplace. “In fact, he wants to have every new order that comes in finished by the next day. I have seen him work through the night on more than occasion, and he would often get up at 4 in the morning. My father has worked the night all his life, and his retirement has not changed that”, Tilly says, laughing.


Father Gerard in his workspace

Golden Pigeon

Gerard and Tilly used to race pigeons themselves when they were living in Maasmechelen. Jos is the only one of five children to start racing pigeons on his own, and how! He has been a top level player for many years now, with such titles as World Champion and Golden Pigeon to his name, along with many national first prizes and championships. Jos competes in every discipline, from sprint to extreme long distance, and he excelled in each one of them. He has been obsessed with pigeon racing from his childhood onwards. "Even at a very young age Jos would spend his days in his father's pigeon loft. He would never hesitate to offer a helping hand in the loft, much unlike his brothers and sisters. To them, having to clean the loft every once in a while felt like a punishment more than anything else. Whereas to Jos it felt more like a reward”, Tilly says smiling.

Meanwhile Jos continues to achieve great results, developing into a highly proficient fancier along the way. And he is particularly grateful to his parents: "Just ask my mother about her duties in the pigeon loft. You'll be surprised what an 82 year old is capable of doing in this loft each and every day", Jos says.

Excellent caretaking

day in the loft of the breeding birds: she feeds them, she keeps track of the eggs, and she writes down which of the pigeons are having youngsters and which ones need to be ringed. She then heads to the racing lofts: she empties the boxes and turns on the conveyor belt. And there are some weekly routines as well: a bath for the breeding birds on Friday, and a big clean-up on Saturday, both in and around the lofts (they even dusttheir trophies). "We use wet wipes", Tilly elaborates, "I never vacuum around here."

She talks about it with pride. And she should be proud. This is a perfect example of doing something that you really like, at an age where many people would spend most of their days in the couch. Tilly is quite the opposite; she clearly gets a lot of energy from her daily duties.

This ‘Barcelona 2012’ of Jos Thoné has spent the last two years with Jos’s parents.
“This is my pigeon”, says Tilly, “and his partner has already done four races from Barcelona.”

Cake for Genk

The fact that she is still baking a cake once a week for the members of Eendracht Genk, Jos’s union, is just a side note, but the fanciers from Genk appreciate the effort all the more.

We noticed during our visit that Jos’s father Gerard does spend a lot of time in his workplace. “Jos was pretty much born a pigeon fancier, spending his days in our loft starting from the age of nine. And we feel privileged getting to look after his pigeon collection on a daily basis, especially because it keeps us young.”