The following individuals were honored for their achievements in 2012 at the June 24, 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:
Ron Palochko - Best FreeWalker 2012
PK: First, congratulations on winning the 2012 FreeWalker of the year award. So, who is the guy behind that smiling mustachioed face. We've heard you are a dedicated walker? How did you get hooked on walking?
Ron Palochko: I started my walking odessy in May of 2001 after having completed a Seminar titled "Successful Life", which was a three day program conducted by an old codger named Ed Foreman who was about 80 and still had more energy and enthusiasm than any human being had a right to have. My take-away from this was - if you set a goal, write it down and look at it every day, and do something for 30 days, it will manifest into a habit.
At the time I was quite rotund, totally out of shape pushing a 50" waist line and on a first name basis with the guys at the Big and Tall. I decided after the seminar that I needed to do something about myself and my self esteem. I decided to embark on a weight loss program which would consist of exercise and eating a proper diet. The exercise part was the hard part, given a demanding work schedule in addition to a nearly 60 mile commute each way topped with extensive travel. The only way I could nail the exercise part was to wake up at the ungodly hour of 4AM and walk.
I chose walking, because it was the only thing you could do anyplace and at any time. So, day one I started a journal logging the number of miles I walked each day. It helped me stay motivated with that magical 30 day goal in sight, when it would become a habit. I soon learned that I would experience more guilt by not making an entry in my log than my mother-in-law could ever lay on me. Well the weight loss came, the miles increased, the habit developed and here I am 12+ years later 100 lbs. lighter, still maintaining my log, and just recently passing the 31,000 mile mark!
PK: Can you tell us little about your walking routine?
Ron Palochko: Now, at age 65, I walk each and every day, 365 days a year, rain, shine, heat snow and ice without fail. I live in Piscataway and log 6-8 miles most weekdays and 10-12 on weekends, mostly walking alone. But I enjoy very much the solitude of morning and often have no predetermined destination, other than going wherever my feet take me. As far as walking FreeWalker events, they have one of my life's more rewarding experiences and I absolutely love to participate in every event.
PK: What are some of your other interests or passions?
Ron Palochko: Yes, walking is my passion, as well as Family and the Detroit Tigers. I'm married 34 years with two sons. Vincent who joined me on a few FreeWalker events and Andrew who currently lives in the Chicago area and one day will join me. My wife, Peggy, also loves walking, but hers is mostly confined to the Mall.
PK: Any current or future plans?
Ron Palochko: I have worked in the Auto Industry these past 30 years as Director of Part Logistics for Volvo and retired at the ripe old age of 55. Now I'm in my retirement job with Hyundai as a Distribution Center Manager, soon to retire permanently, having recently purchased a home in Florida. I'll probably will go out at the end of the year and do the snow bird thing for a year or two.
PK: Do you have any words of wisdom for other walkers?
Ron Palochko: Keep doing what you love to do, even if its hard sometimes. Like the big game of life, you simply put one foot in front of the other and keep on going. Thanks to the FreeWalkers for providing me with a forum to pursue my passion and challenge myself to go one step further than I could ever imagine I could go. Can't wait for the Fall Season to begin!!!!
Jazlyn Sears Raggio - Best Young FreeWalker 2012
PK: You know, as Best Young FreeWalker of 2012, you became a role model for other young people to try walking. Can you tell us a little about why you walk?
Jazlyn Sears Raggio: I walk because I enjoy working out. Walking long distances is a great way to build muscle and endurance for the track team. Walking also relaxes me and its a great way to see different places and nature. Besides, it's a great way to talk to mom (Charlena Sears) and meet other people, too.
PK: Do you have any suggestions for long-distance walking that might help others, young or old?
Jazlyn Sears Raggio: I use good hiking socks from REI to prevent blisters. I like to wear nylon, instead of cotton, because it keeps me cool and absorbs sweat. I like shoes with good shock absorbers. Take frequent breaks, keep hydrated, and eat protein bars. Everyone should think "green" and should leave the earth a little better than we found it.
PK: I hear you have lots of interests and are pretty ambitious. So, what do you like to do when you are not walking?
Jazlyn Sears Raggio: I love hiking, swimming, biking, water rafting, fencing, archery, animals (especially dogs), and the environment. I like to play saxophone and guitar for the fun of it. School takes up a lot of my time and I try to do my best in all subjects.
PK: I heard you are a straight "A" student and a member of the gifted and talented program. Have you earned some particlar awards?
Jazlyn Sears Raggio: I've gotten awards like Magna Cum Laude in Latin, Model Congress Winner, Model United Nations Winner, Excellence in Robotics, and the Richard Wright Creative Writing Award.
PK: Pretty impressive at the young age of 13. What's next?
Jazlyn Sears Raggio: I want to enjoy the summer and still be busy with the things I love to do. I hope to be doing more walking all around the tri-state area.
Joe & Denise Bellantoni - Best FreeWalker Spirit 2012
PK: I know from walking with you both that Joe had a terrible accident and somehow you guys manage to create a great and unique life together. If I may, tell me more about what happened over the last few years that led to your unique lifestyle and walking The Big Walk this past May.
Joe & Denise Bellantoni: Joe was in a near fatal car accident July 9, 2007. When he woke up from his coma he was blind. I (Denise) was determined not to let this spiral into a depression and decided to move forward by taking Joe back to work as a CFO for Crystal Springs Resort. I am his assistant. When Joe was at Kessler Rehab, I took him outside in the parking lot with his IV pole and gown and I walked with him for a few minutes every day. That was the beginning of it.
After extensive rehab Joe was determined to run the 2009 NYC Marathon. He trained for it in just 9 weeks with the organization Achilles. Since then, Joe has run 5 marathons including 2 Boston Marathons. He also has run over 50 foot races, 5 triathlons, and 3 bike races. He is currently training for the NYC Iron Man.
PK: Whoa! With all the training and accomplishments, why the interest in the 50-mile walk?
Joe & Denise Bellantoni: In all of this, he never walked over 3 miles. The 50 mile walk was indeed a huge challenge for the both of us. It was validation that he could do the Iron Man. Ironically, the reason why we walked (50 miles) was because its the one thing we usually don't do for exercise now. It was a challenge for us to see if we could do it. As a blind person, Joe rarely walks any distance. He is usually running, biking or swimming, training for some race.
PK: Any tips or words of wisdom for other FreeWalkers walking 50 miles?
Joe & Denise Bellantoni: Just remember its a mental thing. If you think you can't do it, you will not succeed. We see so many inspirational people at Achilles. We used Infinit to drink, which is designed for your own needs and used high quality running socks. Joe didn't get any blisters and mine were very small. We walked in our running shoes. I also wore compression bands on my calves.
PK: I understand that you have set up a foundation to give people hope when they are confronted with physical disabilities. What is that foundation?
Joe & Denise Bellantoni: We set up a 501(c)3 non-profit foundation called Blind Ambition Coalition (http://blindambitioncoalition.org) to aid those who have physical limitations and help them experience new and challenging activities. These new experiences typically include: golfing, hiking, swimming, ski/snow tubing trips, horseback riding, kayaking, fishing, and demonstration cooking classes.
PK: Best of luck with the foundation and the NYC Iron Man. We'll be looking out for you and inspiring us with your next challenge!
Read about the 2015 FreeWalker Award Winners
(Nancy Jonap, Ken Kurland, Bob Quinlan and Ilene Silver)
Read about the 2014 FreeWalker Award Winners
(David Ascher, Renata Luisi, and Hua Davis)
Read about the 2013 FreeWalker Award Winners
(Al Walker, Ian Hochstead, and Risa Olinsky)
Read about the 2012 FreeWalker Award Winners
(Ron Palochko, Jazlyn Sears Raggio, and Denise and Joe Bellantoni)
2011 FreeWalker Award Winners
Claudia Acosta - Best FreeWalker
Mike & Anne Kruimer - Best Support Team
Mackenzie Roe - Best Young Walker