• Tom Hanlon

I think we are on to something...

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

Walking is for ordinary time, for the everyday, for the steady application of will, for seeing the beautiful in the little things. Walking is so simple, so human, so much a part of being alive. Yet many of us don’t take time out of our days to walk. Sitting at a keyboard in front of a computer hardly seems like a human activity in the same way that walking does. Walking has always defined us. It’s as plain and natural as eating and sleeping. It is a fundamental human activity that anchors us in place and allows our minds to rise above the many challenges of everyday living. Walking is like meditation or mindfulness. For a portion of the day, we are able to leave the tensions of the world behind, to enjoy the beauty of the natural world and to engage in an activity that can lead us beyond ourselves if we let it.

Adam Wheeless leading a walk at Emory and Henry

There are many people who say that walking is a cure all for what ails them. They say it clears their mind. It causes them to forget their problems. It leads them to be more creative. They enjoy looking at their surroundings in slow time. They feel better during and after a good walk. My grandfather walked four miles to and from work every day. He met people along the way and made lasting friendships.

In January, I accompanied one of our River’s Way Game Changer groups as they worked with gym classes at Tennessee High School. Our Game Changers are young adults with differing abilities and they volunteer to go into schools with Matt Kyle, our Program Director, to help him run walking programs. The day I went to Tennessee High, I saw two classes. There were close to 50 students in one group and 30 in the other. The programs began with everyone forming a circle. Students introduced themselves and came up with goals on how many laps they were going to walk around the hallways of Viking Hall. Some students had goals of four laps in 40 minutes-- about half a mile. Nick, one of our Game Changers, put them to shame with his goal of 17 laps. Once students heard that Nick was walking 17 laps, many of them created more ambitious goals. One student aimed for 25 laps!

Tennessee High students pushing it to achieve their goals!

Once we set our goals, we headed out on our walking. I walked at a fast pace and listened to conversations as I went. Our Game Changers interacted with students who began to get used to their presence. At the end of 40 minutes, we reassembled and each student had a chance to say the number of laps they walked. The student who said 25 did 25. The student who said 4 did 10. Then something hit me. Students who you might take to be the ones who would be overlooked in the everyday school environment had bought into the idea of walking and setting goals. These students were stating their lap numbers in a way that made you think they were proud of what they had done. To see these students take pride in walking laps made me think that we were on to something. In talking with Matt afterwards, we both thought it might be tied in with our Game Changers being there. The Game Changers made everyone feel at ease and set a tone that said it was OK to walk laps and set goals.

Posing for a picture after a walk at Tennessee High School

Yes, we are on to something with walking. We can make the world a better place through more walking. Gandhi walked. Martin Luther King walked. Charles Dickens walked at least 10 miles a day. GirlTrek is a walking movement among African American women and over half a million women belong. They point to Harriet Tubman as a role model and a great walker as well. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability wants to rebrand walking to make it an inclusive activity. In doing so, they want to promote the idea that people of all abilities deserve opportunities to take part in inclusive walking, even when they are in wheel chairs. Walking is one of those great bonding activities. It brings people together regardless of their abilities.

And let’s not forget the many health benefits of walking. To name one I just came across this reference on the Pritikin website:

By walking just 40 minutes three times a week, researchers from the University of Illinois recently found, improved brain circuitry among people ages 59 to 80 so much that their brains resembled those of 20- to 30 year-olds, whose brains were tested for comparison. The results, measured by MRIs, did not happen overnight. The benefits for the older walkers were observed only after one year. Six-month data yielded no significant trends.

Yes, there are the health benefits but walking does so much more. I know we are on to something that will benefit people of all abilities if we just take the time to walk. I close with an excerpt from a letter that the philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, wrote to his niece in 1847:

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be alright.

Written by Tom Hanlon - Executive Director

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