Nancy Jonap was interviewed by Risa Olinsky, FreeWalkers Vice President, on what makes her walk and what it means to be a FreeWalker. Nancy shared the Outstanding Award this year with Ken Kurland.
Risa: How did you first learn about FreeWalkers?
Nancy: I think I learned about FreeWalkers through an East Coast Greenway or Complete Streets website. There was mention of Paul's desire to walk 50 miles. I decided I could try for 10 miles and joined him on a couple scouting walks before the official Big Walk of 50 miles. I had never walked that nearly that far before but was intrigued by the idea. I think I was able to achieve close to 30 miles on that day.
When I moved back to the NY area and settled in Jersey City, I became increasingly aware of pedestrian safety issues walking through my new neighborhood. At the time our present Mayor was the councilman for the district where I was living. Somehow I connected with him and became involved in the concept of walkable communities, pedestrian safety and complete street programs.
While walking was always a passion for me, it now had a purpose. At an international conference I met interesting urban designers and planners from all over the world. It solidified my thinking about walking and the need for walkable, safe communities. I introduced the concept of pedestrian safety at community meetings but faced a lack interest just six years ago. I’ll always remember my idea of making Newark Ave a pedestrian mall did not go over well. But, today Newark Ave is now a pedestrian mall! That was a lesson in timing, persistence and patience. Something constantly faced for pedestrian issues.
Risa: You have been an avid walker for many years and with different groups and places. What would you say makes FreeWalkers unique in your view?
Nancy: FreeWalkers is free! It's not competitive and it’s open to everyone; men, women and children of all ages and all fitness levels. The walks are unique and creative. They involve more urban opportunities, which allow for exploration of neighborhoods, cities as well as trails and back roads. Most walks are "scenic" though, not requiring something gorgeous to be scenic. The best part for all is that you walk at your pace. There are no winners or losers. Yet long walks can certainly be a personal challenge, even for fit individuals. It is what you make it. A person can come in and/or leave as fits his/her schedule or physical need.
Risa: In additional to participating in the already established walks, you and Ken have created original events while exploring the East Coast Greenway through the New York, Connecticut and now Rhode Island and Massachusetts. How would you describe the highlights of these “new” walks to those who might consider trying them with you?
Nancy: For me the highlights are the adventure. I enjoy experiencing new places on our multi-day trips. It is especially gratifying because you never really know what's ahead. I am mindful of where I am...I take it all in. The way it goes is that Ken Kurland and I plan out a multi-day walk that takes us further along a trail like the East Coast Greenway. We invite others to join us for all or even part of the walk. We’ve discovered that the benefit of walking and experiencing remote areas are even more interesting, enjoyable and exciting. Leading new walks gives me the opportunity to first explore the area then share the adventure with others. I even find myself planning walking events when friends and family visit me!
Risa: What advice might you give to someone new to long distance walking?
Nancy: Go one step at a time (pun intended!). Don't let numbers scare you...it's about your own personal best. Shoes are important...find comfortable, supportive shoes. I like sneakers better than hiking shoes for our walks since most walks are on pavement and sneakers offer more comfort because they are somewhat softer on the sole and ball of the foot. Always have extra toe room in your shoes – your feet do swell when walking a lot. I have rarely gotten a blister over the past 6 years of walking. It’s helpful to appreciate that walking is really good for both the body and the brain. It's relaxing and stimulating at the same time.
Risa: You are a role model for health and wellness in many more ways than just walking. What do you do in other ways, (such as nutritionally) to keep your body strong for long walks and more?
Nancy: I try to lead an active vegan lifestyle these days. I am a vegan because I want to live in a better and more compassionate world. It may not be for everyone, but it works just fine for me.