Roach: Walk On

"I remember the day well. It was the moment I realized I had discovered a new sport."
Person walking in the forest
Photo by Getty Images

I remember the day well.

It was the moment I realized I had discovered a new sport.

In my early years I played everything imaginable: football, baseball, basketball, tennis, hockey, speedskating, golf, whiffle ball, washers and, of course, tetherball.

Upon adolescence, I focused on the organized team sports of football, baseball and basketball. In high school, I wandered into track and field because I liked to run fast.

I once interviewed Hollywood legend Gene Kelly. He explained his love of dance by saying that when he was a young man he would run across a field and feel like he was flying, and dancing gave him that same joy. I understood him exactly. When I ran as a young man, I felt as if I could take flight.

But there were less joyous elements that came with the team sports of my youth. There was a masculine code dictating that the only way you got better was via pain. Run until you vomit. Hit people until both of you were concussed. Play through injuries without complaint. Don’t drink water when you are rabid with thirst.

I carried this mentality into early adulthood. At first there were energetic softball and basketball games. But eventually age makes you wave those sports goodbye as you’re bound to blow a knee or pop an Achilles. It is inevitable.

I then took up golf and obsessed about that for a few years. I still play it because it is a beautiful aberration; it is the only sport where you can improve as you age because it rewards wisdom, not testosterone. But it’s not great cardio. Not even close.

Through all these adult years there was one constant exercise: jogging. Some days it was two miles. Some days, five. On rare days, 10. Regardless of the distance, one thing was for sure — it was obsessive. And although there were cardio benefits and wonderful endorphin highs, jogging was not all that good for me.

By my late 40s I was informed that my hips were arthritic. For a few years I replaced my jogging obsession with biking, making the trek (pardon the local pun) to Mount Horeb and back on the Military Ridge State Trail.

But the damage had been done. By my early 50s my hips had to be replaced. The orthopedic surgeon informed me, with a smile, “Well, the good news is that there is no disease. You just wore them out.”

Which gets me to my new sport, which is not a sport at all. It is called “walking.”

This is an activity that my wife has practiced for years.

Despite her goading me to join her in a stroll, my arrogance caused me to dismiss it as an activity unworthy of my attention.

I was a fool.

About five years ago, faced with rehabbing a new knee, I began walking in my neighborhood. One mile became two, became three, became five.

Now I walk nearly every day.

It has been a revelation.

First, there is joy. You are in the natural world with the day’s weather all around you. You nod and smile at your neighbors, their kids and dogs. When I was jogging, all I could manage was a grimace as I blew by folks.

Walking is also sustainable. It is damn near impossible to injure yourself walking unless you slip on ice, which is why I purchased walking shoes with cleats, which is about as Wisconsin as it gets.

Finally, walking is also meditation and therapy. Whatever may be grinding on you when you begin your walk will be less haunting upon its completion. Whatever your lament, it is diminished by a good walk. Walking is good for the older athlete, as it allows for reflection at a time when you have more years to review.

Which gets me to the day of my walking revelation.

I was up north at our cabin. It was the first November snow on a windless day. The flakes were floating more than falling. I walked, and then kept walking.

By the time I got home my Apple Watch informed me that I had wandered six miles. Longer than I had ever imagined walking.

And I felt wonderful. Even blissed.

And so, I have been walking ever since.

John Roach, a Madison-based screenwriter and producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com.

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