Written by Emily Mullins
For the past 35 years, Fred Schwerdt and his wife Diane have incorporated a 5-mile walk into their daily schedules. The walk normally takes the couple, members of St. John's United Church of Christ in Wernersville, Pa., to the park about a half mile from their home, where they walk along Wyomissing Creek and take in the wildlife and the changing seasons. But it has also taken them to places like the top of Mt. Snowdon in the British Isles, the bottom of the Grand Canyon, Ireland's northern coastline, and the Dolomite Mountains in Northern Italy. Fred and Diane each strive to average 10,000 steps a day, and collectively they have walked upwards of 80,000 miles, adding to their journey five days a week, 52 weeks a year, rain or shine.
"We take this for granted," said Fred, retired pastor of Immanuel UCC in Shillington, Pa. "Until someone asks me questions about it, it's just like we're going for a walk. The next thing you know, you've walked enough to cross the United States and back a few times."
Fred and Diane have always been outdoorsy people, and most of their vacations are to places where walking can play a large role in the experience. It wasn't until 2009 that Fred actually began keeping track of his steps after he was given his first pedometer by the UCC Pension Boards. He has since gone through four of them, wearing it daily to track his goal of 10,000 steps. Staying healthy is the most obvious benefit from all of this walking, Fred said, adding that he and Diane, ages 70 and 69 respectively, both have low blood pressure and strong cardiovascular systems. There is also a social aspect to it. It gives the couple time to spend together, and they often encourage others, like their grandsons, to join them. But for Fred, the walk can also provide a spiritual experience, where he feels more connected to God, nature and even himself.
"After retirement, I was floundering a bit, wondering, ‘What am I doing with my life? What is my value now that I'm not preaching?'" he said. "When I walk alone, I find I am walking back through scripture I have dealt with over the years. I was walking through Psalm 23 – the part about God restoring the soul – and I stopped and contemplated that while I was walking and I felt like I was being restored."
Fred is currently on his 15th pair of Reeboks, his walking shoe of choice. There is very little that will keep the couple from taking their daily walk – they enjoy the snow and don't really mind the rain. However, their cutoff is 20-below-freezing, a temperature they encountered more than once while living in Minnesota. Other than the scenery, one thing that has changed about their walks is that the retirees can now get started around 8 a.m. instead of 5:30 a.m. like they used to have to do before work. Their walking is a tradition that neither Fred nor Diane foresees giving up any time soon.
"If we can't get out for some reason," he said, "it feels like there is something missing in the day."