For retired veteran, best adventures are outside

  • By Sharon Wootton, Special to The Herald
  • Friday, April 27, 2012 1:01pm
  • Life

It’s all about passion for Rick Colombo. It’s a word that pops up often when he talks about staying active in an outside setting.

“I hope I never lose my passion for the outdoors. Mother Nature is not in the house; it’s outside.

“I always thought that I would be the guy, if I passed on, who would be doing something that I had a passion for,” Colombo said.

It’s hard to picture Colombo, 51, being anything but active. He saw a good deal of the world in his 30 years in the Navy, working in places as diverse as the Philippines, Denmark, Poland, Panama, Aruba and Guantanamo.

The aviation structural mechanic and retired chief petty officer has worked on jets on Whidbey Island and helicopters in San Diego, and as an adviser to the reserve unit at Naval Station Everett.

He has also been a tour escort for Princess Cruises, leading about 50 tours, mostly to the Canadian Rockies and Alaska.

“Six to 16 days, fancy hotels, all the nicer amenities, grizzly bears in the morning and steak at the hotel,” Colombo said.

What’s not to like?

Colombo said he repeatedly heard positive comments such as, “You’re a natural at this!” and “You really love this stuff, don’t you?”

“I have a passion for things and if I really like it, something comes out that shows it,” he said. “We’re all connected but if you don’t get out, you’ll lose that connectivity. Your passion stalls.”

Colombo stays closer to home, now, enjoying life with his wife, Crystal, on Sunday Lake in Stanwood.

Activities are his stress relievers from a packed schedule.

This year, he’s carrying 15 credits in the park management program at Skagit Valley College, participating in church, volunteering at Deception Pass State Park and stepping back into the job market.

“You have to take a break,” Colombo said. “If you don’t take that recreational time, you’ll lose yourself. The outdoors has always been a chance for me to (revive).”

He can choose from a menu of recreational activities that includes fishing from his canoe, scuba diving and birdwatching.

Colombo started scuba diving in his 20s while in the Navy.

“I’ve held an octopus in my hand. I’ve landed in the middle of a scallop bed,” he said. “Hundreds of butterfly scallops took off flying around us. It was an amazing thing.”

Colombo has seen a 6-foot-long wolf eel with a big rock scallop in his mouth, was surprised to see a sea lion investigating the divers, and, in Bermuda, was flabbergasted when a porpoise came very close to check out the aliens.

At 51, he has to work a little harder on staying in shape (some panting has crept in toward the end of his sit-up routine). There will be a day when he can’t handle an oxygen tank weighing 65 pounds plus 40 pounds of other scuba diving gear.

But that day is not here yet.

“Keep going, keep pushing yourself,” he said. “You have to keep pushing harder when it’s more comfortable watching TV or reading a book.”

Colombo is a birdwatcher. He recently took an ornithology class and did a three-month study counting every bird on Sunday Lake. He counted 44 species.

“I’ve always been fascinated with that world,” he said. “When I see a hummingbird from South America, and know that it’s flown all the way here, it’s just amazing. It’s so active, the colors, the songs.

“So now I’m taking a class on birds to understand the biology of birds, and to share that with my wife. It’s also opened up another venue with my friends, especially older ones, to talk about the natural world.”

Colombo pays attention to the aging going on around him.

“I sense, looking at elders, that they need more activity and someone to take them along,” he said. “I often dream of someday picking up my buddies from the retirement home and taking them out with me.”

Fishing is another of Colombo’s passions. His father led family canoe trips and gave his son a canoe for his 21st birthday. Colombo has had five canoes since, and it’s his favorite mode of transportation for fishing.

Colombo’s best fishing buddy is 78 years old. They get together at the beginning of trout season. Last year they concluded their outings by ice fishing on Fish Lake near Leavenworth.

“I drilled the holes and we both caught fish,” he said. “I’m hoping to find a fishing buddy for me when I’m his age.”

If passion is a factor, Colombo will have no trouble finding one.

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