The following individuals were honored for their achievements in 2013 at the June 23, FreeWalker Celebration. We recognized their participation and dedication to FreeWalker ideals of achieving difficult fitness goals, promoting community and setting an example for all FreeWalkers. The winners were interviewed by Paul Kiczek of the FreeWalkers:
Winners for 2013 are:
- Al Walker - Best FreeWalker 2013 (shared)
- Ian Hochstead - Best FreeWalker 2013 (shared)
- Risa Olinsky - Best FreeWalker Spirit 2013
Al Walker - Best FreeWalker 2013
PK: Congratulations on winning the 2013 FreeWalker of the year award. As you know you'll be sharing it this year with Ian. I had a hard time picking one. Your speed, dedication and friendly demeanor are legendary amongst FreeWalkers. How did this walking thing start?
Al Walker: With the name "A. Walker" I kind of had to walk. In high school I ran track, but never more than 220 yards. My pet peeve listed in my HS year book was "slow moving people in hallways". I'm a person that seems to alway be on the move.
Like most individuals, I took walking for granted, but I do recall that when my first daughter was born she was very colicky. The only solution was to keep her moving, so I walked her a lot, either on my shoulders or in a carriage. We often walked to a playground where she enjoyed the motion of the swings.
Another reason for my interest in walking is my father had a major stroke at 51, a year after I was born, and he died at 57. My older brother had bypass surgery at 52. I'm near 59 and have avoided those issues. A main reason, I believe, is staying active. I've been kind of busy at work lately, but in 2009/2010 I had 15 months in a row where I walked 1,000,000 steps per month. At that time was I was approaching 57, the age at which my father died. I was determined to follow my own footsteps..
PK: That's a lot of footsteps! Tell me about those footsteps. Where's home? Anyone else walking with you in the family?
Al Walker: I've been a Jersey resident for most of my life. I've been living in Livingston for the past 30 years and grew up in Bergen County. For the last 20 years, I have been a self-employed managed care consultant which gives me some time flexibility but sure keeps me moving. My wife Jane participates in some of the FreeWalker events. We have two lovely married daughters. One runs half marathons. But, I can't get her to walk 40 or 50 miles! I'm hoping to be able to talk one son-in-law into it.
PK: How did you get started with FreeWalkers? Have you had other experiences with walking or hiking? What else keeps you active?
Al Walker: I was doing a Google search one day and found a group that I thought was named "free-the-walkers". As a walker that seemed like a good cause and then all of the sudden I'm walking 40 miles along a canal towards my old college.
PK: Ha! That's a great line. Maybe we should see if we can find walkers that need freeing. I'm picturing hundreds of us storming a PATH station and then walking thru the Holland Tunnel. Sorry, I was daydreaming... What other walks have you been on?
Al Walker:I've hiked in many great places in the SW United States. Zion is a special place and has many great walks for all experience levels. My two dogs keep me walking these days. As far as other interests, I have done a fair amount of rock climbing with my youngest daughter and her husband. I've also gone up in a hot air balloon a dozen times. It's a great way to travel short distances.
PK: Do you have any advice for other FreeWalkers or "A. Walker" wannabes? I bet you are a busy guy, being a managed care consultant these days.
Al Walker: My best advice is to get out and get moving. I've actually been so busy this past year that I've had difficulty following that advice. Some practical advice - audio books. I put them on my iPhone. They can help make a five or ten mile walk a pleasure. In terms of Freewalkers, my advice is to find people like Ron (Palochko) and Charles (Tang). Ian (Hochstead) also seems like a great young man. Just this year I met a new young lady, Divina (Arpino), who exceeded her expectations. That's what the FreeWalkers is all about. It's great to see people moving and acheiving their personal goals.
Ian Hochstead - Best FreeWalker 2013
PK: Ian, I consider you to be a leader for many NYC FreeWalker members, which are among our best walkers. Did you discover walking by just living and working in the city where it's more common than in the burbs?
Ian Hochstead: I actually started my interest in walking back in 1994 when I worked for a company in a rather rural area. We had an a full hour lunch break. But, after the 30 minutes I spent eating, I still had another 30 minutes before we went back to work. Eventually, I learned that some of my colleagues would spend a significant part of their lunch hour walking a 2 mile loop around our workplace. So, that was when walking became (literally) a pastime for me.
Come 2001 and the World Trade Center disaster, I was working in lower Manhattan near the South Street Seaport. My company had taken major losses in the ensuing economic meltdown. Many people, including myself, were laid-off. I was out of work nearly a year. When a job opened up again for me, I found that my officemate was in the habit of walking home from work, about 4 miles, and I would periodically join him. He told me about the Great Saunter, the annual 32 mile circumnavigation of Manhattan Island. So, the first Saturday in May in 2003 I completed my first Great Saunter. The Great Saunter has become a tradition for me, 11 consecutive completions, so far. It's been an inspiration for me to continue walking and challenge myself.
I find walking in the city is both common and often necessary. It's often the best way to get around. So, it's a natural and popular activity that many people share here in New York. It's also a great way to see and experience everything NYC has to offer.
PK: I know you are a long-standing and active member. But, how did you get started with FreeWalkers? What's been your experience walking with the FreeWalkers?
Ian Hochstead: I have been with Free Walkers since 2010. Yon Lee, another FreeWalker, first mentioned the "Big Walk" NJ2NY50 to me while we were walking the Great Saunter that year. Now, participating in the NJ2NY50 has becoming another tradition for me. But, finishing the NJ2NY50 has been a lot more challenging. In 2010 I made it past Liberty State Park. In 2011, rain caused many companions like Jeff Gato, Hilary Parton, and Maurice Teahan to drop out at Newark. But, Loredana Delucchi and I pushed on, only to have it rain and I finally gave up at Journal Square, although Loredana managed to go all the way to Penn Station that year. Finally, in 2012, with Jeff's help, I set a new personal record (in any event) of 47 miles, going all the way Exchange Place including the full loop inside Liberty State Park. It was a great personal accomplishment.
In February 2013, when the 50 mile Kennedy 50th Anniversary walk came up, I set my sights for another 50-mile walk and trained with Jeff, Maurice, and Hilary. Hilary and Loredana made it the whole way. I fell short, at the last rest area, having hurt my ankle. Yet another drop-out. But, another reason I really wanted to get back to reaching my goal.
The next chance to reach 50 miles was at the NJ2NY50 Big Walk. But when the 50-mile walk was shortened, due to the hurricane damaged areas, it occurred to me that the official end point in midtown Manhattan could be logistically extended - especially for NYC walkers. Hilary, Charles Tang and I agreed to the plan. Unfortunately, Hilary stopped at Penn Station with blisters. Thankfully, Charles agreed to push on with me and we actually walked 50 miles by extending the route into Brooklyn. I couldn't have finished it without him! It proved to me once again the importance of persistence and walking with others to help you reach your goals.
PK: Looks like FreeWalker events have taken up a good deal of your time. What other activities do you enjoy?
Ian Hochstead: These days I mix up my more urban walking with Freewalkers and Shorewalkers (the club that runs the Great Saunter) with more rural hiking with the NY Ramblers. I also occasionally bike ride, but I don't like riding near motor vehicles so my opportunities are limited. I am looking for the annual "Summer Streets" event in Manhattan in August. Even I sometimes need a break so I do have some less active pursuits. Some long time (sedentary) friends and I periodically meet to play cards and drink copious amounts of A&W Root Beer, our favorite drink. I can be a voracious reader, and am currently an active member of two book clubs. I also enjoy watching movies, especially during the summer when area parks screen movies outside!
PK: It seems you have great motivation and ability to walk long distances. What would you say to others that are just starting out or are having a hard time believing that they can walk something like 30, 40 or 50 miles?
Ian Hochstead: The great thing about walking is everyone can do it. Okay, perhaps not everyone can walk 50 or even 30 miles next week, but if they believe they can work up to it it makes a big difference. Push the envelope. If you can do 2 miles why not 4? And when you can do 4 miles, why not 8? Even walking alone has its benefits and can be meditative.
I agree with something Al Walker recently said - that finding the right person or even people to walk with can make a world of difference. Don't be discouraged if at first there seems to be no one at your level. I've found the walking community to be surprisingly dynamic. That woman you could never keep up with might be slowed down by an injury. And that man who seemed to want to slow down just when you felt ready to speed up might start improving his pace!
Risa Olinsky - Best FreeWalker Spirit 2013
PK: Risa, I've known you for a few years and you are one dedicated walker. You even manage to build a successful business around that and lifestyle coaching. Can you give other FreeWalkers an idea of who you are?
Risa Olinsky: First and foremost, I'm the mother of my two amazing sons now in their 20's and married to my wonderful "cycling" husband Mark for over 29 years. Mark calls what I do with FreeWalkers "extreme walking". I'm blessed that my family shares my passion for an active and healthy lifestyle.
Professionally, I've been in health and fitness industry for over 30 years. I have a Master's degree in Exercise Science from NYU. I started my career as a fitness director and personal trainer. Now, I am spending more of my time as a wellness coach, consultant and motivational speaker. I see clients in person at my office in Maplewood or at the Morristown Medical Center and Overlook Downtown facilities as their wellness coach. I also find myself increasingly coaching others remotely by telephone and web around the world.
PK: How did you get started walking and why are you dedicated to it? Why do you enjoy it?
Risa Olinsky: The day that I got hooked on hiking and walking was Columbus Day, 1974 when I hiked with a group of college students up Mt Washington, the first time I ever did anything like this.
At 5 ft tall and then 155 lbs I had trouble climbing the trails, but so much fun trying. After getting as far as I could with the group, I slid down on my butt in the mud - laughing. That day changed my life. I fell in love with being outside, I fell in love with being physical and challenging my body. Looking back, I describe myself in the past as a physical person that was trapped in a sedentary body.
I moved to NYC in 1976 and continued walking daily. I lived midtown and went to school in the village, so I'd walk back and forth most days. While studying dance at NYU, I changed my eating habits and worked out. I lost 50 lbs and never put it back on.
Now, I walk at least 4-6 miles almost every day. The days I miss, I feel crappy - plain and simple. At 58 years old, walking is more now than just maintaining a healthy weight, it's a way of life, it clears my head, lifts my spirits if I'm down and it's a great way to connect with people - which is what's so joyful about FreeWalkers.
PK: How did you get connected to the FreeWalkers? Did you learn about us online? Through a friend?
Risa Olinsky: David Asher, close friend and FreeWalker, got me hooked. One day he said. "Hey, Risa, what do you think about walking 50 miles?" Well, that first walk I didn't do 50, just 11, but I was hooked - a positive addiction. Since that day, I find myself asking so many people the same question, "What would you say to walking 10, 20, 30 or more miles?" Mostly they look at me like I'm crazy, until their first FreeWalkers event and then they thank me.
PK: What other walks do you do? Other interests?
Risa Olinsky: Just this past spring I did my first, "Great Saunter" with the ShoreWalkers, a walk around NYC - 32 miles. I'm already committed to doing it again next year.
I also started a local walking group called "SOMA on Foot" (South Orange/ Maplewood). We have a FB group with over 500 members and we often hike the South Mountain reservation. It's free and always open to all and we're working on coordinating our local efforts with the larger FreeWalker events. The idea would be to work together with FreeWalkers to support local as well as regional events.
When I'm not walking - I'm do a little cycling and keep up my swimming. I occasionally do Sprint Triathlons. And, I weight train and do Yoga as well. I'm currently writing a book that I hope will motivate others to lead more active lifestyles, at any age.
PK: I think I just got tired hearing all the activities you do. You've turned being active into a career and business. What advice can you impart to the average person who has trouble seeing themselves being that active?
The should ask themselves, "Why walk?" I have had scoliosis, arthritis herniated discs, stenosis and have had one knee scoped....and this was all in my 40's. But, I feel stronger and healthier now than I did back then. It's all about staying physically active. People ask me, "Risa, why do you walk distances like this?" My answer is simple. I feel great when I'm moving and crappy when I'm not. I walk because I can and if the day comes that I can't, then I won't, but I will surely be HAPPY that I did walk while I could. My words of wisdom - Don't live with regrets, only dreams.