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The Catcher on the Fly
With boomerangs, John Flynn '80, '85G comes full circle
By Clare Kittredge

Like a fisherman casting a fly, John Flynn '80, '85G cocks back his wrist and then snaps it forward, rocketing a three-pronged boomerang into space over a Hanover, N.H., playing field. Spinning end over end, the boomerang soars 50 feet, winking in the sun, and then turns like a bicycle wheel, circling around and returning obediently to be snatched from the air. "This one's easier to catch, because it's got a center of gravity," he explains with a boyish grin. "It's harder to catch a two-wing boomerang."

Flynn was a UNH freshman in 1976 when he threw his first boomerang in front of T-Hall. Just as he got the hang of it, the boomerang got stuck in a tall pine tree. When he came back the next day, the wind had blown it down and someone had taken it home. "I didn't throw another one for five years," he recalls. Then a co-worker at a New Hampshire wind energy company who was "into boomerangs" rekindled his interest, and he's been hooked ever since.

Boomerangs evolved in Australia from the hunting sticks used by aborigines; in the early '70s, modern-day boomerang competition arose in Australia as well. In the past two decades, Flynn has won four world championships with the U.S. team and set 14 world records in various events. He set world records from 1982 to 1989 for "Fast Catch," the shortest time for five throws and five catches, using a low-flying boomerang he developed for the purpose. In 1991, Flynn snagged the world individual championship in the "maximum time aloft" event. To demonstrate, he dispatches a light, V-shaped boomerang 75 feet into the air. Barely visible, it hovers like a maple seedpod overhead and then drops into his hands. This event can be tension-filled, he says, because there's always a risk that the boomerang will catch a thermal draft and float away, as happened to him during a competition in Japan.

Balancing his passion with work as an engineer and raising—with his wife, Kirk—twin teenage boys is a trick in itself, Flynn says. Even so, he's looking forward to the next world championship in 2008 in Seattle. Meanwhile, he throws boomerangs for the love of it. He sorts through a bag of about 60, and pulls one out. "You can feel the personalities of the people who made these," he says. "This one was made by a Swedish engineer who worked on the car that broke the sound barrier."

Another one "breaks all the rules," he says, throwing it between his legs. Usually, boomerangs turn left and spin left. "This one turns right and spins left." It zips in a circle around him before he plucks it out of the air, making it look easy.

Boomerangs have taught him, Flynn says, "that if you have a good game plan, prepare with a goal in mind, and pay attention to detail, great things can happen."

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