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 warned him that the stress of losing her, coupled with his unhealthy lifestyle, could send him to an early grave.
That’s when Robert determined that he needed to change the way he lived. He opted to walk instead of lead a sedentary daily routine and 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. In January 2018 he logged his 25,000th mile but on Saturday, Sept. 3 a crowd of admirers and city officials came out to the park to watch him walk his 50,000th mile.
Friends and family celebrated the milestone with a short ceremony that included them walking the last mile with him and drawing a chalk outline of Walker’s shoes at the point he completed his 50,000th mile marker.
After the celebration, Mayor Javier Lopez presented Robert Walker with a Certificate of Recognition that read, “Congratulations on your achievement. Your endurance and dedication are an inspiration to all. We wish you the best in walking many more miles to come.”
Walker, who wears a long beard reminiscent of members of ZZ Top or the stars of Duck Dynasty, is a daily fixture around the park. Locals sometimes join him, others wave and honk as he makes his way around the park 23 times a day.
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 Walker, a 60-year-old resident of the Collins/Service Road area who drives 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.”
“For years now, John has been an inspiration to the community and always has an encouraging word for anyone he meets,” said Jeff Hilbert, a Ceres pastor and friend who walks his dogs every day and often encounters Walker. “John never intended to set out being the marathon walker that he has become, but this simple act has inspired so many people.”
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,” said Walker.
“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 a day.”
The walking of a mile takes him about 16 minutes.
Walker 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 that 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.”