A group of older adults with world-wide aspirations traveled around the earth on foot — without ever leaving Minnesota.
While that might sound impossible, they found a mathematical way to pull it off. Local nonprofit named Vital Aging Network organized the goal through its Wellness 50+ program.
The first step towards any goal can sometimes be the toughest one, especially when walking isn’t always easy.
“As you age, you start to have more challenges around your physical health and your mental health and your emotional health,” said Julie Roles, Program Director for the Vital Aging Network.
The organization helps older adults better their lives and that of their community. One aspect is physical fitness.
“There are some statistics that say if you walk even 1,000 steps a day, it can make a difference in your longevity,” she said.
If a thousand helps, why not tens of thousands, even millions?
“We said that we should at least try it,” said Rita Harcus, 69 years old, one of the several Wellness 50+ participants in the Phillips neighborhood in South Minneapolis.
She and 47 other adults, some as old 90, were challenged to walk around the world without ever leaving Minnesota.
“None of us can walk around the world by ourselves. But together, we can do this,” said Roles.
Instead choosing the equator, the group chose the 45th parallel because it runs through the Twin Cities. That means in order for them to circle the globe, they’d have to travel 17,600 miles. For every mile, there’s 2,000 steps. That means they have to walk a total of 35,200,000 steps to meet their goal.
Using pedometers to track their steps, they started their globetrotting trek.
“In the beginning, we just thought it was not a goal that could be fully attainable by everyone of us because we all have different abilities,” Harcus said.
Whether they got support from a cane, walkers with wheels, or simply each other, the group kept making strides. Some set individual step goals while others made sure to simply stay active at a comfortable pace.
“Five, six, seven blocks. It all adds up,” said participant Mryna Bowman, soon to be 75 years old.
Walking alone or with others, they pounded the pavement on sidewalks and trails. Often they would wear their neon green shirts which stated their worldwide goal on the front. Harcus would sometimes walk to Theodore Wirth Park.
“Just to touch that rock where the 45th Parallel Line is,” she said speaking of the stone marker.
Fifteen months later they crossed the finish line and then some. They total 36,959,319 step, which equates to 18,479 miles.
The group held a celebration at Center for Changing Lives, a facility that also allows them to host wellness activities.
The journey figuratively led them across oceans and countries they’ve never seen before, which Harcus proudly tells her family.
“They said ‘really, and you stayed in Minnesota all that time?’ And I said yeah but I walked around the world,” she said with laughter.
And while the exercise benefited their health, the camaraderie might be their biggest achievement.
“It creates this opportunity for people to connect with each other in meaningful way, in a real way,” said Roles.
“I’m proud of all of us for sticking to it and for just persevering,” Harcus said.
The Wellness 50+ program isn’t just in Minneapolis. There’s groups in St. Paul, Stillwater, Forest Lake and more.