Risa Olinsky - Trustee & President
Risa Olinsky joined FreeWalkers in 2010 on a dare to walk 50 miles in one day. While completing only 11 miles that day, Risa was immediately hooked long-distance walking and has logged hundreds of miles since then.
Risa is a certified health coach, personal trainer and group fitness leader with the American Council on Exercise. (ACE). She holds a Master’s degree in Adult Fitness Management from NYU and wellness-coaching certification with Wellcoaches Corporation.
Risa’s current business “Count on Yourself Coaching” offers wellness coaching, fitness consulting services and motivational speaking engagements, with programs for individuals, groups, medical centers and corporations. She has designed wellness programs for the JCC Association of North America and Atlantic Health.
Risa, and illustrator Carol Hsuing, recently published their first book, "Why Walk.", a book of motivational pages that will get everyone walking.
Being a proud resident of Maplewood, Risa is a founder of the community walking group SOMa on Foot (South Orange, Maplewood) and co-creator of Maplewood’s award-winning “Mayor’s Wellness Campaign”. She is past recipient of the Maplewood Chamber of Commerce “Citizen of the Year Award” (2014) and honored as a “Maple Leaf Award” for her continued involvement in community health activities. Risa is married to Mark Olinsky, an attorney and avid cyclist. They have two sons, Benjamin and Daniel; now living their own active lifestyles.
Why I walk...
“Walking is incredible therapy, both physically and mentally. I walk because I can; and if the day comes that I can’t, I’ll be truly grateful I did, while I could.”
Jennifer Popper - Trustee & Vice President
Jennifer first walked with Freewalkers around 2014. She remembers how passionately the group's Founder spoke about the mission, and was hooked. She and her husband hiked often on their own, both locally and abroad, but was drawn to the friendly and encouraging dynamic of Freewalkers.
After losing her husband Michael, also a Freewalker, in a sea kayaking accident in 2016, Jennifer decided to plan a walk along the East Coast Greenway, and Jenn's Journey North was born. She planned to raise money for both Freewalkers and the East Coast Greenway Alliance; her goal was $15K, a thousand dollars for each year she was married, and ended up raising $17K. She spent two months on the trail, walking from Cranford, NJ, to Gouldsboro, ME, near the site of the accident. One of her most favorite parts of the journey was day one, when Freewalkers and family saw her off in Nomahegan Park. It reinforced the notion that the group is about much more than just walking.
Jennifer is the Editor of TAPinto Plainfield, a hyper-local news source for Plainield, NJ. She is also working as a PDMG, or Program Delivery Manager, for FEMA in Iowa. But she hasn't stopped walking, and has found a local walking group through Meetup.
She graduated from Syracuse University, and her career was spent as the Advertising Research Director for national magazines like Us Weekly, Rolling Stone, and TV Guide Magazine.
Why I walk...
"I love to be outside, walking among the trees, and witnessing all of the beauty Mother Nature throws at us. Whether it is hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru, scrambling up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, or just taking a stroll around my neighborhood, I am able to enjoy the health benefits of walking while taking in nature.”
David K. Ascher - Trustee & Secretary
David Ascher, who was a life-long cyclist, now uses his long legs to walk long distances. David is also an Ambassador for another walking organization--Everwalk, founded by Diana Nyad, the long-distance swimmer and motivational speaker. David has been active in civic and charitable affairs for many years, sharing his knowledge and wisdom on organizational matters. He has designed bike routes for the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure rides, and has been a Trustee of the Achieve Foundation of South Orange and Maplewood, a Member of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education, Secretary of the NJ Committee of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, and Secretary of Congregation Beth El.
David is an attorney specializing in corporate law. His wife, Joani, is a successful author of historical fiction and mystery novels. Both have been fostering Seeing Eye puppies for the last 20 years since their daughter, Shonna, got them hooked. David received a BA from the University of Buffalo, a Masters in Community Planning from the University of Cincinnati, and a J.D. from the University of Buffalo School of Law.
Why I walk...
"Walking enables me to enjoy our beautiful natural environment while exercising, seeing things that one misses while driving, cycling, or running. To paraphrase Frank Zappa--good for your body, good for your mind, cucaracha."
Yohana Osario - Trustee & Treasurer
Yohana joined Freewalkers in 2012 after moving to Maplewood and trying to meet new friends who enjoyed the outdoors. She was immediately hooked after an attempt at completing the Lenape Trail walk (34 miles). She had completed some of the Adirondaks high peaks and was very attracted to this walk as it goes through a local reservation, neighborhoods and parks.
Yohana is a graduate of Corsakas College of Business at William Patterson University and is a paralegal professional for an insurance defense firm. Much of her free time she spends working with teens and pre-teens.
Yohana is our online social network manager and is developing programs to expand Freewalkers for all ages and various groups. Currently, she is heading up the Freewalkers interest group for family activities as well as leading the Stroll & Roll family event.
Why I walk...
"I sit in front of a computer all day, everyday. I am now more mindful about healthy habits. Walking is so easy and cost efficient. Just go! No equipment is necessary. I have come to realize that I can go anywhere I want if I just start walking in that direction. We owe it to ourselves to take care of the perfectly designed machine we call 'our body'.”
Charles Updike - Trustee & Region Director, Delaware Valley FreeWalkers
Charles is an active walking advocate and history buff who joined FreeWalkers in 2015 after searching for challenging walking events. While residing in Levittown, PA he participated in many events which soon led to his interest in expanding FreeWalkers to his area which includes eastern Pennsylvania, western New Jersey and Delaware.
Charles is renowned for his knowledge of local history and knowledge of the local interesting places which he shares on the numerous walks he organizes in the Delaware Valley area. Due to his vision, high energy and meticulous attention to detail, he's quickly organized and now heads FreeWalkers' first regional division.
Why I walk...
"I walk because it's a personal challenge and a thoughtful experience. It provides a way of immersing yourself in your environment. I really enjoy getting others to walk with me. Our walks provide an opportunity for many to be the best they can be."
Paul Kiczek - Founder & Trustee
Paul is the founder of FreeWalkers and is both an avid walker and cyclist. He sees unique and complementary benefits for practicing both. He believes the power of motivation and suggestion lead to the best results in fitness, regardless of an individual's age.
A technology specialist and software entrepreneur, he currently manages multiple websites and social networks, while writing and blogging about the history, pain, pleasure and benefits of extreme walking and public pedestrianism. (Distant Thoughts – Tumblr) and (Walking History – WordPress)
Paul is a graduate of Rutgers where he earned his MBA in Finance and spent most of his career at HSBC heading a technology center. More recently he organized several business ventures, including Morris Internet Group, specializing in local and state government software applications. Paul also has previous experience developing and serving on a non-profit board.
Paul started FreeWalkers in 2009 in search of alternative exercise for the larger population. He formed a successful partnership with the East Coast Greenway Alliance which led to hosting multiple long distance walks in the unique open style of FreeWalkers. Paul’s vision is to grow and unite a larger community of walkers and to inspire other groups, such as children and seniors, to see the many benefits of walking.
Why I walk...
"I walk because nature invites us to. Walking is the most natural of exercises we can do.
I walk because I want to stay active. A healthy lifestyle begins with movement.
I walk because it makes me feel alive. Walking is an easy way of interacting directly with your environment and community."