Walker County folks come from all walks of life, and in the past eight weeks they have combined efforts to Walk Across Texas and possibly build a new exercise routine into their daily lives.

Each team of eight, from communities across the state, participated in the Walk Across Texas program created by Texas Cooperative Extension in 1996. The idea was to clock miles from border to border, a total of 830 miles.

“It has been a delight working with so many groups of people,” said Walker County extension agent Kathy Turner. “Although we know that exercise is a major component to good health, it is so necessary we take time to exercise for our health.”

Participants in the county recorded a banner year for the eight-week program, clocking 46,346.52 miles on more than 700 pedometers provided to walkers by the extension office and the American Heart Association.

“Pedometers have been a motivator to help teams and individuals walk,” Turner said. “Walker County was very fortunate to get funding from the Regional American Heart Association to purchase the pedometers.

“I hope we can get pedometers again next year and get more people involved in making habits of regular fitness.”

More than 57 teams, 456 people enrolled on the Web site (walkacrosstexas.tamu.edu) and 14 individuals walking actually recorded more than 69,000 miles.

Another 220 people have exercised, but there was no recorded data available, Turner said.

Besides the teams formed by area schools, Girl Scout troops, retired neighbors, Master Gardeners, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, local churches, families and friends, cooperation from Sam Houston State University was stellar in the 2006 campaign.

SHSU’s Health and Kinesiology, Sports and Recreation and Mass Communications departments formed teams, as well as walkers from the Student Health Center, and the Family and Consumer Sciences Dietetic Intern Program worked to spread the message of the program and ended up with high-powered teams.

“The university students and staff have been real enthused about the program,” Turner said. “ I am encouraged by so many of the participants when I hear how dedicated they are to a regular fitness program.”

There were many success stories, including the number of young people involved, and Turner agreed with program chair Nancy Gaertner concerning the importance of an activity such as Walk Across Texas in establishing good habits.

“I want to really bring attention to the (Huntsville ISD) school board for setting such a good example,” Gaertner said. “This year was the first time the board and the district got involved, and I think it is important to fight health issues like the rising obesity levels in children.

“As a volunteer, I have a real passion for helping people get fit. I think it’s fun to incorporate these little walks in your daily life.”

Gaertner also mentioned the cross-curriculum activities the program provides teachers for math, social studies and more. Not only can students calculate mileage, they can map their walk from one part of the state to the other. Students and teachers from Huntsville and New Waverly were excited to participate.

Eleven-year-old Synneve Williams and her sister, Faith, 7, participated with their entire family to include Mom and Dad and Grandpa.

“My mom told us about it,” Synneve said. “It was fun to keep track of miles, and knowing that 2,000 steps or so equals a mile. I had 17,000 steps my first day.”

Faith, eyeing her big sister over the kitchen table, said the pedometer was only part of her motivation.

“It was funny to see how many steps I could get,” she said with a devilish giggle. “I tried to compete with my sister.”

Synneve sat up straight and dropped her eyes to the table.

“Yeah, and she won, too,” she said.

The girls said they played in the yard, took walks with the family on Sunday afternoons and raced up and down the stairs to gain an extra step or two here and there.

“What was neat was to see how on the days you don’t run around or anything, you might get two miles,” Synneve said. “Compare that to when you run around and get way more!.”

The program was not only designed for youths, but people like Betty Elvin, a 75-year-old who made 2006 her second year to participate.

“I think I normally walk five miles a day, but I have to deliberately walk,” she said. “I’m retired and I’m a gardener, so I can push for more just through those activities. I have the best of both worlds. I live in a gated community in the county and walk with my dogs, who are nonjudgmental. They don’t care if my shorts and T-shirt match.”

Elvin also sponsors a Girl Scout Troop and brought them into the Walk Across Texas journey the last two years. Her team is mostly made up of the same girls, but they’re older now and a little more competitive.

“Now I have to keep up with them,” Elvin laughed. “I used to drag them along, but now, I think they drag me along. With everything we teach in Girl Scouts about nutrition, this goes right along with that.”

Gaertner said she hopes more Walker County walkers will get out next year and inspire new groups to participate.

“What I would hope to come out of this is that a Mom or Dad might say, ‘Let’s all go for a walk,’” she said. “Once you do that, you kind of get hooked. There is no better stress reliever than just a walk.”

For more information on Walk Across Texas, log onto walkacrosstexas.tamu.edu or call the extension office at (936) 435-2426.

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