On March 1, 2012, I started on a little walk to promote heart health through regular exercise and to raise funds for heart education and research through the American Heart Association (AHA). This walk, which started at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Atlantic Ocean and ended on September 2, 2012 at the Santa Monica (CA) Pier and the Pacific Ocean, covered 3,275 miles and included an estimated 5.6 million steps. It was, to say the least, an incredible journey.
I was motivated to undertake this trek to celebrate surviving a major heart attack in 2009 followed by open-heart, five bypass surgery. I wanted to share the message that even though some 83 million Americans harbor genetic heart risk, a healthy lifestyle can mitigate that risk and extend one’s life. You can even be vigorously active after a heart attack. Just don’t smoke, eat healthy, watch your weight and get on a regular exercise program—45-60 minutes a day, 4-5 days a week of rigorous exercise. If walking is your choice of exercise, you should be walking at a pace of 100+ steps per minute.
With the full support of my family and the partnership with my wife, Brenda, who served as my “pit crew” for this journey, I was able to walk across 11 states and see much of this wonderful country. Along the way, we met so many interesting people and made so many new friends. As examples, we met Evan in Anniston, AL who gave us a donation from his church because “God told him to.” And 90 year old Milton in Jefferson, TX, who, despite a heart operation scheduled the next day, insisted on ringing the historic bell in his church for us (something he had been doing for 76 years). And Dan in Glendora, CA, who is now a marathoner after his beloved policeman father died of a heart attack at age 48. Most gratifying were the numerous people who have informed us that my walk has inspired them to begin or renew exercise programs.
As a side benefit, Brenda and I got to see, up-close-and-personal, the varied and beautiful landscape along our path. We crossed farmland and forests, mountains and deserts, small towns and large cities. We were able to take the time to find out what made each place a little special. We learned the history of each area and were able to share some of our visions with followers on our website (www.HeartTrekUSA.com). We took over 8,000 photos, many of which were also posted on the website and on Facebook. We gained a lifetime of memories.
Many have asked how we were able to do it. It just took a vision, a little determination and a great support team that certainly included family, the AHA and the North Carolina Bankers Association (NCBA). From my perspective, I read a quote recently that seemed to apply directly to me and this journey: “Persistence may be more important in life than either talent or intelligence.” Despite being away from family for half a year and enduring the ups and downs that come with travel (like getting caught in hail storms, 117 degree heat in the Mojave Desert, trekking over 15 degree mountainous trails and avoiding crazy drivers just a couple of feet away), we loved almost every minute of our once in a lifetime trip.
Our heartfelt thanks go out to so many who helped make this trip possible and who made the journey so memorable:
- My wife, Brenda, without whom I could never have even attempted this undertaking;
- Our sons, Matt and Jeff, who served as our tech team and did so much to promote our trip;
- The staff at Triangle AHA (especially Kelly, Lauren and Sloan) who provided promotion and support;
- Thad and Brandon at NCBA who arranged parking at banks across the nation and who continuously provided promotion;
- The media across the country that featured our journey;
- Chuck at Metro Media, who designed and produced our logo;
- Jo Ann, who provided and sewed my safety vests that helped keep me safe on the roadways;
- Brenda’s cousin, Donna, who kept watch over our home while we were away;
- Old friends, Charlie and Barbara and Mark and Barrye and Peter and Sheila, who opened their homes to us;
- Those who let us park our RV on their property or gave us a free or reduced price night in their campground;
- Those who arranged special events (especially Larry in Garland, TX and Randi in Ft Worth);
- All who treated us to a meal, a tank of gas or a fill-up of propane.
- Fleet Feet and Road Runner Sports that provided replacement walking shoes and Omni American Bank in Ft Worth that gave me a gorgeous pair of cowboy boots;
- Those who offered a cold bottle of water in the heat of the desert;
- All who called, sent e-mails, posted on Facebook, etc. with encouragement and kind words;
- All who honked, waved or flashed the heart sign;
- Everyone who kept us in their prayers;
- Those who made a special effort to celebrate with us at Cape Hatteras and/or Santa Monica;
- The old friends and new friends we were able to spend time with along the way;
- Those who inspired us with their resilience, courage and determination;
- And especially those who contributed to Heart Trek USA and the American Heart Association.
To all, we wish good health, safe journeys and Godspeed. Find your own incredible journey and keep exercising!