A heart attack in 2012 prompted Robert Walker of Ceres to take his health seriously. The death of his beloved wife Pauline eight months later from a blood clot sent the condition of his body and mind to lower depths. Doctors suggested that the stress of losing her, coupled with his unhealthy lifestyle, could send him to an early grave.
That's when it clicked. Robert determined he needed to change the way he lived. He opted to walk instead of lead a sedentary daily routine and he traded Big Macs and fries for greens. The new lifestyle stuck. Since March 2013 Walker has made it a daily personal goal to walk around Smyrna Park and on last Friday he logged his 25,000th mile.
Walker claims to feel healthier now with the loss of 70 pounds and his diabetes condition under control.
"She didn't want me to give up so I started walking in her honor," said Robert, a 60-year-old resident of the Collins/Service Road area who drives over to the park for his walking regimen. "Every morning when I come out to walk I do a little special thing for her. I was a big time alcoholic, drug addict and all that's gone now. I'm clean and everything. I gave everything up for her. She was Heaven sent. She was sent to me for a reason. This is what I'm supposed to do."
Robert is such a daily fixture as he walks the sidewalk encompassing Smyrna Park and Carroll Fowler Elementary that he has become a health guru who has inspired others. When he doesn't show up any given day, people begin to worry about him.
Local residents can be found walking alongside Walker - whose long grey facial hair reminds many of Duck Dynasty clan or ZZ Top musicians - and drivers passing by will honk to encourage Robert's journey.
"They walk because I do so I recruit a lot of people. I've got teachers walking. This is my calling, I guess because there's so many people who say they're walking because of me and tell me I saved their life. That's a good thing but don't put that on me."
"I walk my dogs every day and always see John walking rain or shine," said Ceres resident Jeff Hilbert. "For years now, John has been an inspiration to the community and always has an encouraging word for anyone he meets."
Following his 2012 heart attack, Walker was forced into a convalescent hospital because his legs went numb.
"I had to learn how to walk all over again. The therapy was to walk."
He told the convalescent hospital staff upon release that his idea was to walk around Smyrna Park. So in March 2013 he started walking.
"I started walking and the next thing I knew I'm doing 100 something miles a week and just broke 25,000 miles this morning," said Walker on Friday.
"I try to walk every day. I do 10 miles in the morning, go to the gym for an hour, do six and seven. I walk with different people. I try to do at least 22, 23 (miles) a day."
He figures the walking of a mile takes him 16 minutes.
Walker explained that he buys a new pair of shoes every three and a half months without regard to brand.
He also changed his diet, from less junk food and fast-food to more greens.
"I eat meat a little bit. I reward myself every once in a while - chicken and fish. Mainly if I have chicken it's grilled. I don't want no fried stuff."
Walker said he doesn't get bored in his routine.
"I have too many friends out here. The firemen know me. The cops know me. Everybody knows me. They honk and wave."
He's determined to continue walking, noting his desire to live a long healthy life has remain persistent.
"My Dad and my Grandpa died about the same age I am now with heart problems. I've been doing good, had all the tests and everything. They say my heart's fine, it's normal."