Woman walks a thousand miles

VIENNA – Valerie Young’s journey of a thousand miles began, yes, with a single step, but also a desire to develop a healthier lifestyle.

“I basically wanted to get something worked into my routine that I could live with every day,” she said.

The effort has paid off for Young in the form of lost weight, increased energy and improvement in her physical and mental health. It also benefited the Old Man Rivers’ Mission when Young decided to celebrate her 1,000th mile by donating $1,000 to the organization.

Young toured the nonprofit Christian mission, which provides food, clothing and more to people in need, last year.

“I was really impressed with what they do, and it’s all volunteer,” she said.

When she started walking on the morning of May 28, 2013, Young didn’t have a specific mileage amount or a charitable tie-in in mind. She was just trying to fit regular exercise into her busy schedule as a Realtor and owner of River Valley Properties in Vienna.

“The first week or so I was only able to make it here to my office and then back home,” a distance of about two miles, Young said.

She admits it was a struggle at first. But she kept at it, going for a walk first thing each morning and gradually increasing her distance to a four-mile round trip.

Young started writing the total number of miles she’d walked on a daily calendar page, then posting it on Facebook.

“I got a lot of momentum from friends and family who were … my cheerleaders,” she said.

She also received support from the folks she encountered on her morning constitutionals.

“The lady at the Guard Cleaners, we wave at each other every day,” Young said.

One person who regularly passed her pulled over one day and gave Young a mug. Another woman told her she started walking herself after seeing Young each morning.

Eventually, walking became a habit, one Young didn’t want to break, even when she was on vacation in South Carolina. So she mapped out a four-mile route there and kept on going.

The harsh winter drove her inside to her treadmill a few times, but only when the temperature dropped below 30 or ice made walking too treacherous.

Some friends asked about joining her on her walks, but Young elected to keep it a solo activity. She considered it a type of meditation.

“It was just a good way to start each day,” she said.

As she closed in on 500 miles, Young started thinking about how far she could go. One thousand miles became her goal.

“I never felt any pressure to hit that thousand miles until I got to about 950 miles,” she said.

As the milestone approached, friends continued to cheer Young on. Some suggested she take a spa day or do something else special to reward herself. But she ended up going in a different direction.

“I wanted to do something that would make more of a difference,” she said.

That’s how she hit on the idea to donate a dollar for every mile she walked to Old Man Rivers.

When Young logged her 1,000th mile on May 23, she was 35 pounds lighter than when she started and her blood pressure and cholesterol levels were lower. She said walking each morning has become a valued part of her day.

“I grew to love it,” Young said. “If my schedule was ever where I didn’t get to walk, I was all bent out of shape.”

Pat Perine, fitness director for Camden Clark’s Health and Wellness Center, said sometimes just making yourself start a new exercise or activity regimen is the biggest step.

“You have to, first of all, make a conscious choice that you’re adding this to your life,” he said.

After getting started, Perine suggests making it more challenging by taking more strenuous routes, increasing the distance, perhaps carrying weights.

If a person does make walking a habit, he or she can expect results similar to Young’s, he said.

“You’re going to see cardiovascular impacts, increased bloodflow,” a reduction in shortness of breath, Perine said. “Everyday life’s going to be a lot easier.”

Young has taken a little break from walking after hitting her milestone, but she expects to start up again soon. And she plans to ask nonprofits to send her information so she can select other recipients of future dollar-a-mile donations based on their mission and how they help the community.