Almost directly across the street from the runways at L.C. Bird High, Jim Tiller is at the controls of another kind of flight - minus the luggage racks.
Few young men can send a heavy ball or platter sailing into the wild blue yonder quite like the powerfully-built senior.
The 6-2 220-pounder has earned his wings in the shot put and discus circles.
\"That\'s me, I just love it,\" Tiller said. \"It\'s kind of like my ego trip...the further I can throw something, the better I feel.\"
\"A rush just runs through me before a big meet.\"
Tiller has been on the state-level radar screen as one of Virginia\'s elite strong men since his freshman year at Thomas Dale High.
He competed two seasons in football and track and field for the Knights before transferring to Bird, as a junior, to take advantage of a computer technology program.
Tiller was a starting defensive lineman this past fall for Bird\'s Dominion District champion Skyhawks.
Currently, he is the area\'s No. 1-ranked shot putter with a best of 53-6½ set in a meet at Fork Union Military Academy. That broke the Bird school indoor mark held by Anthony Moore.
Last Wednesday, he won the district indoor-season title with a 51-3¼. The Central Region meet is set for Friday and Saturday at the Ashe Center.
Tiller is aiming toward Bird\'s outdoor standard of 55-10 held by Tom Hall.
\"I think what really sets Jim apart is how much he loves throwing,\" said veteran Bird coach Bob Reed. \"I\'ve seen Jim out there in street clothes throwing.\"
\"And he\'s so eager, it\'s hard to get him to warm up. He wants to put it out there 50, 52 on the first pop.\"
Also working closely with Tiller is coach Jim Watters, who now is retired.
\"It\'s almost like Jim is possessed with it,\" Watters said. \"Of all the kids I\'ve coached, he may be into it the most. It\'s just a passion with him.
\"Jim just throws, throws, throws. . . . Then, when you think you\'ve convinced him to stop, he asks to throw a couple more.\"
Tiller, who admits to college and even Olympic ambitions, is naturally strong - or, rather, country strong, which goes well with his \"Jimbo\" nickname and love for country music.
He discovered his uncommon muscle power a few years back when some friends asked him to help them move an auto engine block.
\"They were having a hard time nudging it,\" he said. \"I just put my arms around and carried it about 15 feet. That\'s when I knew I might be a little stronger than I ought to be.\"
As gifted as Tiller is in the shot put, he is even more powerful with a discus in his hand. Last spring, he sailed the discus 173-5 at the district meet at Clover Hill.
That same afternoon, Bird teammate Kevin Lyons went a school-record 174-3.
Tiller has bench pressed about 315 pounds, but he is not the avid weight lifter that some others are. Part of that is due to lack of time.
For most of his high school career, Tiller has worked a par-time job after practices and on weekends. He has served as a cook at a couple of area restaurants.
\"I know people expect me to work on some construction site, but cooking is fun,\" he said. \"I see people from all kinds of different schools come in to eat.\"
Tiller, who admits to sampling his own dishes, always has been big for his age. He was nearly as tall in eighth grade as he is now.
\"I used to be like Goliath,\" he said.
As a Carver Middle School eighth-grader, he was first in the discus and second in the shot at the county meet.
On the high school level, he has earned trips to the state meet each season since his freshmen year. Last spring, he finished third in the discus and fifth in the shot at the state meet at Sports Backers Stadium.
As a senior, he\'s set some sky-is-the-limit goals.
\"I\'m thinking 58 feet in the shot and 180 in the discus,\" he said with no hesitation.
Tiller is one person who never tires of long flights.
The article above first appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Your Section on Wednesday, February 20, 2002.