A snappily-dressed man with an electric energy about him, Hank Longo has taken his dreams and ran with them. He is in three Halls of Fame, worked on Prince’s limo (I’ll let him tell you that one), built his own log cabin by hand, written books, told stories, designed, created, and about a million other things one could do to have an incredible life.
He is a National Water Ski Jump Champion and Record Holder. He performed a record-setting stunt on the tv show, “That’s Incredible” by water ski jumping over 14 Mastercraft Boats.
Hank has had his own line of sportswear – Hank Longo Designer Sportswear and has designed and built many display exhibits like the Polk County and Florida Sports Hall of Fame and Museums, and is currently working on the Wisconsin Water Ski Federation and the USA Water Ski Foundation Hall of Fame Museums.
An educational program that he’s been working on for 15 years, SOAR, seems to be getting its wings. With this program, Hank has set out to make his dreams, and yours, come true.
Born in New York, Longo’s family moved to Michigan when he was six. Across the street in the rural subdivision they moved to was the lake where he learned to water ski. He eventually joined a ski club only 8 miles from his house known as “The Lake Oakland Ski Demons.” Continuing to ski in local state and regional championships, by winning the 1974 Michigan State Jump Championships, Hank qualified for his first National Water Ski Championship, where he placed 6th, followed by many other state, regional, and national wins.
During spring break of his senior year of high school, Hank grabbed his skis and hopped on a Greyhound bus to Winter Haven to, “see the best skiers in the world.” At that time, Cypress Gardens was the “Water Ski Hollywood” of the world, according to Longo and seeing them ski was a dream of his. He had so much fun hanging out and skiing with the team, “As I got on the Greyhound bus going out of town, I said, ‘One day, I’m moving down here to Winter Haven, Florida,’” he said.
After high school, he went to Eastern Michigan University and moved to Minneapolis a few years after graduating. He lived there for 18 years and owned a car stereo shop and gas station. In 1991 he had the opportunity to sell his business and move to Florida.
A Natural Born Storyteller
Hank was first emboldened to write by his mother, Gladys Longo Kind. “She knew that I was creative and that I liked to write, so she encouraged me to do all the things I loved to do,” he beamed. He started creating fairytales and telling them to his friends, his mother’s 4th-grade class, and soon other teachers approached him to do the same. “I knew the whole story before I ever wrote it down,” he said.
His first story was called, “The Kingdom of Anybody” which he told for his speech class final exam and got an A+. Next, he started writing books. “Farmer Dilly and The Potato Who Wanted to be a Tree” followed by “The Yummy Cookie Company and the Bicycle Dream.”
The latter was about a boy who wants a bike, but his dad tells him he’ll have to earn the money. So, he starts a cookie company. “I started a cookie company with the fifth grade at Sacred Heart Elementary School in Minneapolis,” said Longo. They got the company state-licensed and used this to teach the kids how to start and operate a business. At the request of The Minneapolis Star Tribune, Longo broke down the basic principles of economics using the newspaper as a guide for how economics affects the world in a book called “Gravity Makes the Earth Spin, but Money Makes the World Go ‘Round.”
Next was a wrestling comic book inspired by his work with Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig, called, “Golden Boy Headlock vs The Villain Vito Varmint” and a manners and morals guidebook, “The Golden Boy Headlock and Tiger How to be Cool Guide and Survival Tips.”
One of Longo’s best friends and fellow skier stopped skiing so that he could teach his twin daughters the sport. With this focused guidance from their dad, the girls went on to be “the best women water trick skiers of all time,” according to Hank. “For them to be able to ski at that level, to be able to ski under such pressure…it just fascinated me how they could concentrate on that,” said Hank. He thought, “If you taught kids how to run a business at that age, they could do it. If they could compete at that level and handle all that pressure, why couldn’t they run a business or be whatever they wanted to be?”
For the last 15 years, he’s been creating an education program called SOAR.
When he started teaching the program, Hank would hand the children a notecard and ask them to write down what they dreamed of doing and what they loved to do. He continues to be blown away by their eager responsiveness to the question. He earned a teaching certificate from the Polk State College Prep Institute for Teachers to better understand how to teach his program to students. Advertising from local business allowed Longo to print the first batch of mini books and give one to each of the students and teachers at Winter Haven High School, accompanied by a weekly video to go along with the lesson.
“My Philosophy: I believe if you ask a student what they dream of doing and then structure their education with a blueprint and direction of how to accomplish making their dream a reality and encourage them to pursue their passions and to believe in themselves, they will be more engaged in their education and successful in making their dreams come true while in school and in their future after graduating from school,” he explained. Like his mother did for him, Hank wants to encourage these kids to believe in themselves.
“I’ve come up with my new science that’s called Incredibleology. I’m an Incredibleologist and what I do is study incredible things. There’s something incredible about all of us,” said Longo.
He delivered 2500 SOAR mini books to Winter Haven High School last fall and has them in Polk State College where his mentoring the Men’s Basketball Team. He is starting the program at Auburndale High School. One day, he’d like to see them around the world.
He’s currently working to find a major sponsor to make expanding the program’s reach, a reality.
Here’s a Notecard, Hank. What is Your Dream?
“My dream (one of them) is to be able to teach students all around the world how to SOAR and make their dreams come true and share my passion for education.”