2014 Awards & Interviews

The following individuals were honored for their achievements in 2014 at the June 22nd, 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 2014 are:

David Ascher - Best FreeWalker 2014

PK: You are among the elite FreeWalkers in terms of number of walks and miles you have completed over the years. What draws you to the FreeWalkers and walking?

David Ascher: I first learned about the FreeWalkers through the East Coast Greenway. I've been a dedicated cyclist over the years and a long walk seemed like a good alternative. It has been a great personal challenge, good exercise and chance to meet a lot of people.

PK: It seems at every event you are among the fastest walkers. What kind of speed (mph) would you say you normally average at a FreeWalkers event? What's your opinion about resting or breaks along the way?

David Ascher: I believe on the long walks I generally average about 3.5 mph, which of course is much slower than my usual pace of about 4.2 mph or more. I guess my long stride helps but it seems natural to me. Keeping a steady pace is important. Although I like to take a 5 minute break every 10-miles I rarely will sit down. For example, on the recent 20-mile Philadelphia walk the only break was to pick up a cheesesteak at the Reading Market - and I ate that on the go.

PK: I know you have been a cyclist too for many years and your involvement with the East Coast Greenway led you to us. Are you still cycling?

David Ascher: Freewalker activities have cut into my cycling but in some ways I enjoy walking more. I like the fellowship of talking while walking whereas I do not like to talk while cycling. Cyclists need to pay attention to the road. Also, I like to be able to just get up and walk anywhere at anytime.

I still ride when I can. Cycling of course requires some practice, equipment, special clothing, etc. While you can see a lot more while walking, you can't do 40 mph downhill while walking! I would say I balance both and still do charity bike rides every year, as I have for the last 25 years.

PK: I understand you and your wife Joani are empty nesters these days except for your dedication to training seeing eye dogs. What's your involvement with the Seeing Eye program?

David Ascher: Joani continues to write mystery novels most of her free time. We have been fostering Seeing Eye puppies for the last 20 years since our daughter got us involved in this project. We currently have our 13th dog, a female yellow Lab named Holliday. This year I will be cycling in the Gran Fondo to raise money for The Seeing Eye.

PK: Any advice or personal philosophy you would like to share with other FreeWalkers?

David Ascher: My advice to those just starting out is that it is surprising how fast one can build up to longer distances. Keep a positive attitude and just keep walking. The more you do the better you get. I am still shooting for my first full 50-miler. And, after that, there's plenty of opportunity to do more ahead.


Renata Luisi - Most Impressive Effort 2014

PK: I understand you live in New York City so you must be a natural walker. I know you do not own a car, so I and many suburbanite FreeWalkers would like to know, how you get around?

Renata Luisi: I take public transportation, walk and bicycle. Having access to 24 hour transportation is one of the benefits of living in the city. Sometimes you have to be very resourceful to get around, but there are always alternatives.

PK: I know one thing I share with you is a love of cycling too. Has the popularity of cycling and walking in the city changed the way you ride or walk?

Renata Luisi: It’s great that New York and other areas are now dedicating more resources to cycling and pedestrians. But I’ve always taken advantage of city streets and trails. Now, there are even more opportunities to explore other areas not as well known to me before because of all the new greenways and bike lanes. I've completed two century bike rides over 100 miles.

PK: How did you first learn of the FreeWalkers? Have you walked some of the other events in New York City?

Renata Luisi: I believe I saw a article for FreeWalkers while looking at the East Coast Greenway site. In the New York City area. I mostly walk as an alternative to getting around. I've been on bike rides, hikes and walks in Europe, various parts of the US, Canada and South America.  

PK: I would consider you a very active and adventurous traveler. What are some of the more interesting places you have traveled to?

Renata Luisi: Yemen, Oman/the Emirates, Ethiopia/Djibouti, Faroe Islands, Laos; there are many more. Though some stand out more than others, they all are interesting places. I like to look beyond the standard recommended places for something different and memorable. It’s the attitude of the individual traveler that makes a big difference.  

PK: You seem to represent a certain type of FreeWalker that welcomes the challenge of getting to events in distant places. What motivates you to put in that extra effort for these events?

Renata Luisi: As a traveler, I have never minded the long distances whether travel has been domestic or foreign. It's the idea of going somewhere different, seeing something new, exploring and learning. Exposing oneself to new experiences opens doors in many ways: especially in terms of acquiring more knowledge and becoming more aware of things by information or from observation.  It's something I experience in my life every day, whatever I'm doing.

Hua Davis - Best FreeWalker Spirit 2014

PK: Hua, there are few FreeWalkers that have as much energy as you do and I personally can attest to that. Can I ask how old you are and how you maintain your fitness? 

Hua Davis: I am nearing my 60th birthday.  I run 1⁄2 to 1 mile in the morning, and then stretching for 30 minutes 3-4 times a week before going out for work.  Also, I do one-hour lunch walks for 2.0-3.0 miles in Brandywine Park during a workweek. I like to hike and backpack in the wilderness every weekend with hiking groups.

PK: That’s a lot of activity! One of the remarkable facts that others might not know is that you live in Delaware. A nice state, but one that is many miles away and half-way between our two regions of metropolitan NY/NJ and Washington DC. How did you learn about the FreeWalkers and how do you manage to get to FreeWalker events?

Hua Davis: I learned about the FreeWalkers through Crazee Monkee Hiking and Out Door Club, a Meet-Up hiking group. Last year I noticed the FreeWalkers’ Big Walk 50-miler, and it proved to be great challenge for me. I generally follow several MeetUp groups for local walks and am always looking for new ones.

Thanks to the FreeWalkers, I can participate in different walking events in a different city, state or county, such as the 50 mile Kennedy Walk in Holland, Belgium and Germany. That gave me a chance to travel to the Europe for the first time. I remember when I came back from the walk my office workers asked me how it went. I said to them, “Do I look any different”? They eyeballed me up and down. I pointed to my heart, and said, “I have changed HERE”.

Freewalkers.org is a great organization where people get together and enjoy the outdoor activity of walking with free expression and free spirit. I believe the human body can get stronger at any age by gradual, low intensity, low impact regular exercises. Walking is an activity with the advantages of being inexpensive, easy to start, and easy to succeed. As long as the mountain stands, the road extends, the wind blows, the clouds glides, the river drifts, and the ocean flows, life will never be boring....!!!!

PK: One reason you were honored for Best FreeWalker Spirit Award was that I witnessed your outgoing charm offensive during our recent Holland walk. Does your approach to people have anything to do with your personal background?

Hua Davis: According to my mother, I was born a genetically happy person. On the day of 10/30/1996, I came to the US from China. I was a first generation immigrant - someone looking for a better life, and opportunities for personal achievement. I came from a culture that lacked a basic standard of living. I am still amazed how much time I can spend on things that I like to do, without worry about making a basic living. So, free time may be more precious for me than others.

PK: Your personal ambition to attend Medical school is an inspiration to all of us. If anyone can achieve this difficult goal later in life it would be you. Why are you motivated to become a physician?

Hua Davis: My motivation to become a physician comes from my early medical background. When I was 16, I became a doctor without formal education because there was no school for 10 years in China due to the “Culture Revolution”. When medical school reopened, I was over the age limitation for admission. I have always wanted to go to medical school to systemically learn the basic principles of medicine on a cellular, molecule and DNA level. Now the time has come, I am financially, physically, and mentally ready for a new challenge to fulfill my dream.

PK: Is there anything you would like to mention about the immigration experience and life in the US?

Hua Davis: The stories of how new immigrants succeed in the US are the same. They are based on extremely hard work. When that airplane landed in the Philadelphia airport in 1996 I was 42, and I knew the land under my feet was ground zero. I had no friends. My only daughter was in China. I had no job, no money, and no English.

The long Journey stared with the enrollment in ESL (English as second language) at a community college. I eventually earned an associates degree in nursing, then a BSN, then an MSN. At the same time, I worked as house cleaner, gardener, babysitter, food deliver, waitress, massage therapist, nurse assistant, practical nurse, RN, and now a nationally certified, state licensed Nurse Practitioner in Adult Health. My daughter finally made it to the U.S. when she was 19, and she completed her master degree in fine arts from The Fine Art Academy of New York.

Anytime, I look back from where I came, the most important thing is not only what I’ve achieved in my healthcare career, but also the friendship I’ve shared with so many wonderful people I have met along the way. I’ve learned that love and compassion are the riches I am most proud of in my life.

In Their Footsteps...(Awards overview)


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