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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘It’s wonderful’: Vulture returns stronger than ever after pandemic, health scare

UPDATED: Sun., May 1, 2022

Bill Robinson and his Bloomsday Doomsday Hill vulture greets runners during the Bloomsday race on Sunday in Spokane. The vulture has been a fixture at the top of Doomsday Hill since 1987.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Bill Robinson and his Bloomsday Doomsday Hill vulture greets runners during the Bloomsday race on Sunday in Spokane. The vulture has been a fixture at the top of Doomsday Hill since 1987. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The sun was shining, almost as much as Bill Robinson’s smile, as he prepared to pull on his vulture costume for the first time in two years.

“People think of the vulture as a person but it’s a well-honed group of people,” Robinson said, as family and friends fine tuned the 7-foot-tall costume.

Earlier this year, Robinson was worried he might not be able to make his 36th appearance as the vulture. His ongoing heart problems required him to have bypass surgery. With his doctors’ expertise, physical therapy and a lot of determination, Robinson donned the costume Sunday morning.

“I feel great,” he said.

In years past, Robinson would call it quits before many of the last walkers reached his post on Doomsday Hill. But this year, thanks to all that physical therapy, Robinson said he felt stronger than ever.

The costume is also better than ever, with new paint on the bird’s talons and fresh feathers around the neck.

“My whole house smells like glue,” Robinson’s wife, Sharon Robinson, said with a chuckle.

After two years of virtual races during the COVID-19 pandemic and her husband’s health scare, Sharon Robinson said Sunday’s race reminds her of how far they’ve come.

“It’s all sort of a celebration,” she said.

As bystanders set up to watch the race, one woman exclaimed, “Oh it’s the raven.”

Robinson greeted her and showed off the costume’s improvements. As she walked away he remarked, “I’ll answer to any denomination of bird.”

The elite female runners sped up the hill as Robinson slipped into the vulture’s dark body, inflating the wings with two little fans hidden inside the costume.

He stepped out to the sidewalk, and smiles slipped onto the runners’ faces.

People began whipping out their cellphones for selfies, saying “thank you,” and high-fiving the vulture’s wings. Nearly everyone was smiling.

Robinson’s joy was palpable from inside the creature, as squawks emanated from the giant costume.

“It’s wonderful,” Robinson shouted.

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