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|04-08-03: 'Serious pedestrian' extolls the virtues of
|By SHELLEY GRIESHOP
The Daily Standard
Calling himself a serious pedestrian, Robert Sweetgall spread his
"eat less, move more" message to a group of senior citizens in St. Marys on
Sweetgall, casually dressed in a gray sweatshirt and skin-tight black
stretch pants, has walked across the United States seven times in the last 20 years and
now gives speeches on fitness to all ages coast to coast.
"My goal in the last few years has been to motivate Americans to
get out and move," said 55-year-old Sweetgall of McCall, Idaho. "Walking is the
simplest, easiest thing most people can do to keep healthy."
A motivated speaker with a generous helping of humor, Sweetgall
entertained more than 60 area seniors at the Council on Aging Center in St. Marys. The
program was sponsored by the Heart Health Committee of Allen, Auglaize and Hardin counties
and the Heart Center of West Central Ohio.
Sweetgall told the crowd he chucked a $100,000-plus chemical
engineering job, and in 1982 and 1983 he marched 11,208 miles across the United States to
help raise health awareness in others.
"I was a nerdy kid ... an overweight kid nicknamed
Butterball," he said. "I'd eat anything in sight - cheesecake, candy, whatever I
could get my hands on."
He studied hard and was valedictorian of Brooklyn High School and went
on to college with a full scholarship, he said. But after getting his degree and landing a
top notch job, he began to take a good look at his family's heart history and he didn't
like what he saw.
"So I decided to walk the world and teach people how to balance
their health in their everyday lives," he said. "Everyone thought I was crazy.
My father said, 'Don't you have anything better to do?' "
Sweetgall, who married for the first time a year ago, told the seniors
to walk a pace that's right for them, and demonstrated his "round the world"
pace at 3 1/2 mph.
"I chose a speed that didn't kill me," he added with a grin.
Most of us don't need to lose weight, he said, "We need to add
muscle and burn fat."
Sweetgall pranced across the floor to show how far 22 steps would take
him - the approximate length of 10 yards on a football field.
"You'd have to take two treks across the Buckeye's football field,
the long way across, to burn up one peanut M&M," he said, as the crowd looked
surprised. "Fifty-five times across the field for one Snickers bar ... 216 times for
a 6-pack of beer.
"And we wonder why we aren't losing weight walking," he said
as the audience laughed. "Sugar, grease, oversized servings, these all our leading us
to an obese nation full of people with Type 2 diabetes."
You'd have to bicycle or swim three miles to get the same physical
results as you get from walking one mile, he added.
"Walking is the best exercise for your body because it's easy to
do, it doesn't cause pain, and gives you social, spiritual, physical and emotional
payback," Sweetgall said.
He passionately spoke about the lack of physical exercise by children,
who today have little or no physical activity and are "shoved in front of
computers" daily, he said.
"We drive them to school in our $30,000 yuppie mobiles and take
away their recesses and phys. ed. Our kids are on Ritalin and the teachers are on Prozac,
and we put a sign out front of school that says 'Drug-Free Zone.' What a joke," he
Sweetgall, slim and trim, said he keeps a daily journal of his
activities and encourages others to do so, also. Besides his foot journeys, he also
cross-country skis, hikes, rows and uses a treadmill, he said.
Sweetgall, often called the real Forrest Gump, said is the only person
to walk all 50 states in 365 consecutive days. The only thing he carried with him was a
four-pound fanny pack filled with supplies, he said.
"All I packed was a toothbrush, dental floss and traveler's
checks," he said as the audience shook their heads in disbelief. "What else
would I need?"
One woman yelled, "deodorant," as a loud chuckle erupted in
"No, I could get that at a hotel," he answered.
Sweetgall said he didn't always stay in hotels. Sometimes he slept
wherever he could while on his long journeys - jail cells, hospital beds, church pews and
pizza parlor tables - anywhere he was welcome.
He showed the crowd one of the holey pairs of shoes he saved from a
recent trip. "I went through three of these," he said.
Sweetgall explained that even senior citizens can make their bones and
heart healthier, improve posture and elevate their mood by walking and minimal strength
"Just remember, adding just an extra mile to your daily routine
can make a significant change in the value of your life."
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