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The Joys and Privileges of Walking and Running

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When I was very young and still unable to walk, my mom and dad would prop me up, hold my hand, and relentlessly encourage me as I struggled to make those first few walking steps happen. It took a while but when it finally happened, all three of us were ecstatic, delighted, and proud of our collective achievement.

A couple of months later when those first precarious walking steps had become more familiar and solidified, I suddenly broke out into a few quick running strides – at least it felt like I was running. And to the delight of my parents and anyone else who was there to witness this momentous event in my life, everyone clapped and cheered my newly discovered ability once again.

How Do I Know All That?
How do I know all this you ask? I know it because that’s the way it happens for almost all generally healthy kids including my own who are both now in their mid 30’s. In both cases my wife and I coaxed, cajoled, and encouraged those first couple of walking steps that eventually translated into running steps. And when it happened we clapped and shouted and celebrated the event. At this point in life, walking and running are always highly valued as a privilege and a pleasure by everyone.

On the Other End of the Spectrum…
On the other end of the spectrum, my dad is now 96 years old and he spends most of his day in a wheelchair. He exercises constantly in order to maintain the abilities that he still has at his disposal. On nice days, weather permitting, he goes outside with his walker and walks in one direction for a block, turns around, and walks back.

In his younger years my dad was an athlete who played football, basketball, baseball, and ran track. He went to college on a football scholarship – such that they were back in the late 30’s and early 40’s. He could run, jump, throw, catch, and he was well coordinated enough to turn all these experiences into a teaching and coaching career in which he helped thousands of kids experience those activities and endeavors that had so defined his own youth and his own life.

What He’d Give to be Able to Walk or Run…
Here’s my question. At age 96 what would my dad (or any other 96 year old person) give to be able to walk normally, the way most of us take for granted until we lose it. At age 96 what would my dad give to feel the rhythm of a smooth running stride, bare feet propelling him forward in the cool grass, wind blowing through his hair?* At this point in life when you’ve lost the ability to walk normally, let alone run like a deer, walking and running are indeed a privilege and a pleasure that one can only recall.

So at the very beginning of life walking and running are highly valued as privileges and pleasures. And at the end of life walking and running are highly valued as privileges and pleasures. But in between the beginning and the end many of us lose track of the privilege and the pleasure walking and running. Instead they become a work out. They’re something we have to do, a physical pill we have to swallow in order to stay healthy.

Rekindle, Reactivate the Connection
In the 21st century when excess body weight has effectively engulfed an entire culture and undermined our ability to physically celebrate the human condition through the acts of walking and running, we need to reconnect with our infant selves, and we need to appreciate what others have lost when they can no longer walk or run.

And in the process we must actively rekindle and reactivate what some have called the P-Factor (P for privilege and pleasure) in walking and running. Succeed at that task and you’ll be looking for excuses to walk/run instead of looking for excuses to avoid walking and running. In the magical words of Khalil Gibran, “Forget not that the earth delights at the feel of your bare feet, and the winds long to play with your hair.”

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