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Friday, September 23, 2005

I WALKED UPHILL…BOTH WAYS

On a lighter note - here's next week's LIVE WRITE column (goes to 10 papers in BC) - feedback welcome.


The first week of October is International Walk to School Week. This annual event gives children, parents, teachers and community leaders an opportunity to be part of a global effort as they celebrate the benefits of walking. In 2004, three million walkers from 36 countries participated. Walking to school together is an easy way to encourage physical activity, reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. Children also learn safe routes to school and safe pedestrian and cycling skills.

These goals make sense, especially in a time when the hours children spend in physical education in schools have waned and the hours they log in front of TVs, computer screens and electronic games have soared. Every week there seems to be new information on the trend toward overweight and obesity among Canadian children.

A landmark study on this found that in the 15 years leading to 2000, the percentage of the population that is overweight in Canada increased by 92% in boys and 57% in girls. The prevalence of obesity more than tripled in some age groups during the same period. Obese children tend to become obese adults with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses. While this is a complex societal issue, the prescription for health certainly includes a good diet and more exercise, such as walking to school.

Walk to School Week led me to reflect on my own walk-to-school history. It’s a Canadian tradition that each generation must describe to the next just how tough walking to school really used to be. I remember my father describing his walk to school in 1930’s Edmonton and I recall phrases such as, “wind that blew me backwards”, “newspapers stuffed into my jacket for warmth” and “so cold we saw dogs attached to trees” (use your imagination).

I didn’t ride a school bus until Grade 7. Before that, I walked with my three brothers to a small rural school in Gull Lake, Michigan. We climbed up a steep bank from our lakeside cottage, marched along a winding tree-lined country road and then huffed up another steep hill to our school. My recollection was that it was at least half an hour in duration - fraught at times with bad weather, bad boys and deep dark woods on both sides of the narrow lane.

This summer I travelled to Ontario and Michigan, visiting childhood homes to dig up memories and the rare friend I was still able to locate. I was thrilled to find that the rural nature of Gull Lake was unchanged after several decades. I toured our former house, courtesy of the current homeowners. Then I decided to walk my old school route, to enjoy the sights and to stimulate memories of the young boy I once was.

It was a delightful walk and each curve brought new recollections - from a nasty prank involving a brown bag, something left by a dog and a pack of matches - to recalling an elaborate tree fort my pals and I built. As I strolled, I paused to take a few photos. When I reached the school, I glanced at my watch, curious to know how long I had walked. To my astonishment... it was eight minutes, door to door. Please don’t tell my children.

Whether you walked 10 miles to school (uphill both ways) or meandered a mere eight minutes as I did, it’s not too late to get out of the car or truck and begin to walk more now. A good start might be to join several million others for International Walk to School Week.

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