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She Walks the Walk

news_walkA 91-year-old Capitola woman has walked more than 12,000 miles in the Senior Mall Walk program

In the early 1970s, an Australian schoolteacher named Dave Kunst became the first verified man to walk across the world. He wore out 21 pairs of shoes, walked across four continents and 13 countries, and covered a total of 14,450 miles.

In the early 1990s, a retired Capitola woman named Jean Moorhead began walking at the Capitola Mall every weekday morning. She has walked around the inside of the mall nearly 4,900 times and covered more than 12,000 miles since. She is now 91-years-old and entering her 20th year as a mall walker.

“When I first reached 500 miles, someone said ‘You’ve walked from here to Los Angeles,’ and I thought, well if I got down to Los Angeles I better get back,” says Moorhead, who has racked up the miles by participating in Santa Cruz Parks Department’s Senior Mall Walk program. “And then someone said, ‘You’ve walked from here to New York,’ and, again, I said ‘I better get back home.’

“I don’t know where I am now,” she adds. “I guess when I got to 10,000 miles I thought that was it, but I just kept walking.”

According to Linda Sullivan, recreation supervisor for the Parks Department, more than 70 seniors are enrolled in the Mall Walk program.  She considers it the strongest senior group around. “We don’t have a senior center, so if we were going to gather everyone together, this would be the spot,” she says.

I arrive at the food court—the designated meeting place for the group—early one December morning just in time to catch the end of the exercise class that follows walking three times a week. The mall walkers are seated in rows of chairs in front of the Cinnabon, following a woman who sits facing them as she inhales deeply, raises her right arm out in front of her and slowly twists to the left.

After the gentle upper body and breathing exercises are over, I sit down with Moorhead, Sullivan and Moorhead’s good friend and fellow mall walker Myrtle Brabant, who has been in the program for six years and logged 1,500 miles.

Moorhead is tall, beautiful and full of life: her eyes twinkle, mirroring the sparkles on her Christmas sweater, and her skin is bright.

“At first I walked by myself because I have a long stride,” she tells me. “Most people couldn’t keep up, and I didn’t want to slow down because it wasn’t helping me.”

Brabant, who is a good foot shorter than her friend, chimes in: “Now she’s slowing down and I don’t have to run to keep up with her.”

“Yeah, now people don’t walk with me because I walk too slow!” Moorhead says, causing the pair to burst into laughter.

Moorhead joined the program an the advice of her doctor, who said walking would help soothe her arthritis. Keeping up the routine hasn’t always been easy for her, and she reports still having health problems, but she believes that the daily walking regime has, in her words, “kept her going.”

“Sometimes in the morning I hurt so bad, I can hardly get out of bed,” she says. “Then I come down here, and as I start walking the juices start flowing. You move, and you’re feeling a whole lot better.”

But regardless of the value of exercise, it is the social aspect that keeps Moorhead (and most of the others) coming back. “It’s the people that bring me,” she continues. “If I stayed home, it’d be me and four walls. Some days you’re down and don’t feel so good, but you can come and meet your friends and be social. It’s a good way to start your day.”

The group is incredibly tight—in addition to seeing each other every weekday morning (for those who come regularly), they celebrate birthdays, go on day trips, get together for lunch, and have three annual parties. Others drift in and out of our conversation to add sweet comments like “We take care of each other,” and, on a sadder note, my introduction to the group includes many matter-of-fact mentions of members who are no longer with them. “There used to be a lot of couples that walked,” Moorhead says while recollecting about the old days of the program. “Yes, we’ve lost a lot of the men,” adds Brabant. “A lot of men,” says Moorhead. “It started as a big group of couples.”

Still, the group—mostly women now—moves forward, one step at a time.

Kunst walked through 13 countries. Moorhead, too, spent her life traveling: she’s been to the Panama Canal twice, on a safari in Africa, blazed through Europe, Scandavia, and Asia, and gone on 15 cruises to Hawaii. In her 80s, she hooked up with a travel group and went all over the United States in a van. In Brabant’s words, when it comes to Moorhead, “she’s been there, done that.”

Now she has walked 12,000 miles in her own backyard (or close enough), just shy of Kunst’s trek around the world—and there is every reason to believe that she may just catch up.

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