At the age of 86, Trussville sailor Harry Reich wants to go faster on Logan Martin, and faster for a cure for Leukemia.
It’s easy to imagine why Harry Reich spends every weekend he possibly can sailing on Logan Martin Lake.
The 86-year-old Trussville businessman is a mainstay at the Birmingham Sailing Club’s vast property on the lake. When he’s not helping tend to the grounds and facilities or helping others cast off, Reich is out on his own sailboat.
With the waves playing patty-cake on the boat’s hull, the fish hopscotching out of the water and Reich playing hide-and-seek with the wind, recapturing a youthful joy would seem all too easy sailing on the lake.
So it must be the calming escape and the thrill of feeling young again that draws Reich to sail on Logan Martin, right? Not exactly.
“I’m thinking about how I can go faster,” Reich says with a sly grin.
While there may be a place for nostalgia, it’s not on the sailboat with Reich. He doesn’t see the sailboat as a time machine for traveling backward, but rather as a way of marking time in the all-important present.
Reich uses sailing as a way of harnessing the current joys of life itself, racing against the clock as if he knows that, like the wind in the sails, life can be fleeting and lost just when things are going perfectly.
Sadly, Reich knows this to be true.
Harry Reich ended up in Alabama when his father decided to establish a Birmingham office of the Reich Companies, which makes machinery and equipment for foundries. After earning a mechanical engineering degree at Notre Dame, Reich spent some time working at ACIPCO in Birmingham before going to work for his father in 1953.
Reich would later lead the company and blended U.S. and European technology to grow the company. That led to a partnership with German engineer, Joachim Laempe, and the company, which is still based in Trussville, is now known as LaempeReich.
LaempeReich is the leading core machine supplier in North America and has hundreds of foundries as customers. Reich’s sons, David and Peter, now lead the company.
Reich says he still goes into the office every day, where his sons “give me a task to complete” so that he can still feel involved.
If he is not in the office or at home, there is a good chance Harry Reich is at the nine acres the Birmingham Sailing Club owns on Logan Martin. He still races in the different regattas and he sails for fun — which is to say he is trying to go faster.
No doubt, there are times when Reich pauses to take in the beauty and splendor on Logan Martin. For all of his talk of having a need for speed, it’s hard to imagine anyone would be able to ignore those times when the sun sparkles across the water or the calm when the wind decides to settle into a gentle breeze.
Sailing yields moments of quiet reflection
Such times call for reflection.
It’s been nearly 30 years since Tom Reich died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 33.
Sailing was one of the special things Harry and his wife, Marilyn, shared with their oldest son and his brothers and sisters. Ironically, the Reiches were already regulars in the annual Leukemia Cup Regatta races.
When Tom was 26, he was diagnosed with lymphoma and the regatta took on a more personal meaning for the family. After seven years in remission, the blood cancer returned and took Tom away.
Harry doesn’t like to talk about the days when Tom was sick and avoids altogether talking about his son’s last days. He will, however, recount stories about Tom out on the water.
“He loved sailing and he was really good at it,” Harry says. “He had a sense for when the wind was about to change and those intuitive things that good sailors seem to have.”
Tom, like the other Reich children, grew up in the Birmingham Sailing Club. But he soon outgrew crewing with the family and preferred his own thistle sailboat to see just how fast he could make the small boat go.
He would go on to compete at the junior level and all through high school.
At Tulane University, Tom was on the team that sailed on Lake Pontchartrain. He was captain of the National Championship Tulane Sailing Team in 1975 and 1976.
After college, Tom spent time working in Europe before coming back home and continuing to sail with the Birmingham Sailing Club in the Laser and Thistle fleets.
After Tom’s death in 1986, a friend and fellow sailor, Tad Bailey, donated a special trophy that is awarded each year at the Birmingham Sailing Club Leukemia Cup Regatta in Tom’s honor.
The Tom Reich Sportsmanship Trophy “stands as a reminder to the Club of those qualities of sportsmanship, friendliness and courtesy that Tom exemplified and are so essential to the sport of sailing,” a description on the Birmingham Sailing Club website reads.
It is obvious the way Reich’s eyes light up when talking about the trophy that he sees it as a fitting tribute to his son.
The Leukemia Cup started at Birmingham’s Pine Harbor Yacht Club in 1987 before moving to the Birmingham Sailing Club. Bo Smith and his wife, Mary Carol Smith, wanted to do something to honor Stan Wrobel, a friend who had been diagnosed and later died of leukemia.
Other sailing clubs across the country have taken up the cause and the Leukemia Cup has grown. As of this year, the Leukemia Cup races have raised more than $50 million for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The Birmingham Sailing Club’s Leukemia Cup race was Sept. 13-14 on Logan Martin.
“It all started with our little regatta,” Bo Smith says. “We never could have imagined it growing into what it is today.”
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society recently gave a tip of the hat to that original event.
“Since its first event in Birmingham, Alabama in 1987, the Leukemia Cup Regatta has grown throughout North America, and now has more than 40 races in 38 states and Canada,” a news release from the society reads, also noting that “Leukemia Cup Regatta events take place from January through October.”
Mary Carol Smith can’t help but smile to consider what the regattas have come to mean for those with blood cancer.
“It really makes you feel good to see how it has grown all over,” she says. “You have to believe that with over $50 million raised it is making a difference.”
Reich says treatments have advanced significantly since his son’s and Wrobel’s deaths. More people are surviving today, thanks in part to the money that has been raised through the Leukemia Cup regattas.
Despite the advances, until there is a cure, those involved with the Leukemia Cup almost certainly will keep sailing for the cause.
In the search for a cure, Harry Reich is not alone in wanting to go faster.