News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion Columns

September 29, 2013

THOMAS L. STEIGER: Does there have to be a purpose in walking?

TERRE HAUTE — I think my youngest daughter is trying to kill me. She convinced me to join her in the Indy Monumental half marathon. She is running it, I am walking it. When she suggested this to me, I thought “13 and a half miles, piece of cake.”  I’ve always walked a lot, enjoy it, though I never walked in any kind of a competitive event.

I began to think my daughter had it in for me when she sent me a 12-week training regimen. “I have to train for this thing?” I said to myself. “So, it’s not just a bright, clear, cool, November Saturday spent strolling the Indy downtown, but a three-month commitment to achievement!” Achievement is something I’m used to, but physical stuff is not my thing. Who is this person who claims to be my kid?

I do wonder where she gets it. She comes from a long line of champion couch potatoes whose idea of physical activity is scrolling the mouse across a pad or punching the advance key on the remote. While I admit to enjoying walking in rain, sleet, snow or sun, it’s not so much the physical activity as the alone time it provides, the chance to get away from the electronic world (yes, I know all about iPods, but I prefer bird song to Lady Gaga). Since I’ve started this “death” walk, people ask me what kind of walker I am? I’m not sure how to answer this, “upright,” “lumbering,” “straight ahead?”. I tell them “Zen.” I  walk to think about stuff, everything except how fast I am walking, my pace, my breathing, all the things that are seemingly necessary to walk the Indy Monumental.

This morning, I walked 4.25 miles at a “brisk” pace in under an hour. Each mile I got faster and faster, but find that I can’t let my mind wander and enjoy the call of the yellow-billed cuckoo that I heard because it takes so much concentration to keep up the “brisk” pace. Forget talking to anyone on the “trail,” that would break my training and slow me down; other lumbering humans are just bodies to pass like I’m a human NASCAR. By the way, people don’t appreciate it at all when I draft them.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy physical activity. For about a decade I’ve been paddling a kayak. For more than a decade I have been doing tai chi. If I still lived on Collett Park, I’d walk to work at ISU. Five years ago I learned to scuba dive. I am going to learn how to sail. I enjoy physical activity but not for the physicality, but for the activity. I like the feeling of being on the river, not driving by it. I like diving and snorkeling a coral reef for the incredible natural beauty of it. I like walking because it gets me outside, in the light, and away from email, the laptop and the “important” stuff. I drafted this essay in my head on my last mile of my “brisk” training walk. Didn’t seem to slow me down, I think I hit a groove or something.

Still, I wonder if my daughter is trying to kill me. Heck, in addition to the walking, I am even supposed to be “cross training,” whatever that is. I’m cross enough, I don’t think I need much training in that.

Then I recall all the things that I have shared with my kids that I enjoy: paddling, snorkeling, birding, camping, even just taking a walk. Given the bugs, the sunburns and the blisters, I could see where my kids might think I was trying to “kill them” on some of these shared outings. Perhaps that is what my daughter, who seems to really enjoy running and running rather hard and for long distances, is trying to share with me, things she really likes to do. She is also becoming a skilled baker, “… Hey Andrea, how about a couple loaves of that wonderful bread you make, I’ll need it after my flesh has melted away after training and completing the walking version of the Indy Monumental.”

Let me check my training schedule. Ahh, tomorrow is a “rest” day. I can go walk just for walking and not for a reason. That’s more like it. Maybe I’ll hear a red eyed reo singing.

Thomas L. Steiger is a professor of sociology and director of the Center for Student Research and Creativity at Indiana State University. Email Thomas.Steiger@indstate.edu.

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