Writer: DANNY MOGLE // Photographer: SARAH MILLER // Jan/Feb 2016
Helen Hull is determined to take a walk in every county in Texas – all 254 of them. Don’t laugh. She’s already marked 180 counties off the list and has no intention of slacking off any time soon.
The 69-year-old retiree from Garland is president of East Texas Trekkers, a chapter of the American Volkssport Association, a national group that promotes walking for fitness, fun and fellowship.
America’s premier noncompetitive sports organization, AVA formed in 1976 and now has 250 chapters.
Volkssporting “promotes personal physical fitness and good health by providing fun-filled, safe exercise in a stress-free environment through self-paced walks and hikes, bike rides, swims, and in some regions cross-country skiing and snowshoeing,” says its promotional material.
Health officials can’t say enough about the benefits of regularly taking brisk walks. “What’s not to like about walking? It’s free. It’s easy to do and it’s easy on the joints. And there’s no question that walking is good for you,” says the Arthritis Foundation.
The many benefits of walking include improving circulation, lowering blood pressure, reducing bone mass loss, extending longevity, strengthening muscles, reducing pain from arthritis and improving sleep.
AVA sanctions thousands of walks each year. Clubs hold time-specific walks and members can walk on “established walk routes” at any time. Routes typically are three to six miles. Participants walk at their own pace and no one is required to complete the distance.
Jan Wood became involved in the Trekkers to improve her health after heart surgery.
“I went on my first walk in Jefferson, Texas,” says Jan. She had a great time and instantly was hooked. “Since then I have walked in every state in the U.S.A. and have done many walks besides those.”
In Washington D.C., she took part in a walk that took in some of our nation’s most impressive memorials and monuments. “My other favorite walk is Crazy Horse Monument which is on dirt trails and is outside Rapid City, South Dakota.”
Routes used by East Texas Trekkers highlight the area’s “many small towns, their festivals and their history and showcase East Texas’s natural beauty,” says Helen. A recent walk in Kilgore, Texas, took participants through the town’s Million Dollar Acre, where dozens of oil derricks draw attention to the town’s historic oil boom past.
For Jeanette King, East Texas Trekkers walks have become a family affair. She joined three years ago to become more active.
“I went to my first walk in January 2013 at Faulkner Park (in Tyler, Texas) with my daughter, Alexandra,” says Jeanette. “I enjoyed the first walk, so the next month, I invited my mother (Louise Cox) and grandmother (Sotera Sanchez) to join us at a group walk in Nacogdoches. Since then we have completed about 15 walks as a family and my daughter and I have completed over 30.”
Helen has been an AVA member for 11 years. “I first learned about American Volkssport Association and the many walking clubs from a friend who had been involved for many years. After attending my first walk, I wondered why my friend had taken so long to tell me about it.”
She takes part in about 150 walks each year and already has marked off taking a walk in all 50 state capitals off her bucket list.
“The state capital walks are generally quite interesting and feature not only capitol buildings but many other historic sites. Some of the most interesting are Montgomery, Alabama; Boston, Massachusetts; Helena, Montana; and, of course, Austin, Texas.”
Helen says that more than anything, group walking is about fellowship.
“Many come (the first time) for the fitness aspect and are looking for someone to walk with. They meet new people and stay around for the friends. I joined the group because I had just retired and was looking for something to do. I have always been independent and don’t mind traveling and walking by myself but many others do not venture out by themselves and are looking for someone to walk with for security reasons.
“Since we have four (walking) clubs in the DFW area, some of our retirees get together every Tuesday morning to walk and have lunch, so the group walk is as much a social event as a fitness event.”