Heart of an advocate

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Larry Hayes (05/2012)
Larry Hayes (05/2012)

For more than a quarter century, I wrote editorials and columns for The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. I commented on most all local, state and national issues you’d expect from a writer at a major daily. But I also was an advocate for change. I helped launch a successful lawsuit to fully integrate city schools.
I helped start an internationally recognized center for the rehabilitation of persons with mental illness. I helped launch the county’s suicide prevention council. I enlisted attorneys who won the transfer of a 14-year-old girl from a maximum adult prison to a juvenile treatment center and in doing so reformed how the state treats serious juvenile offenders. And I believe I brought greater understanding for those who are disabled and those who struggle with poverty. “Champion of the underdog,” the late sheriff and state Sen. Bud Meeks called me. Let that serve as the theme for this blog.

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Baseball’s # 42

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When I stayed at Mom and Tom’s during the summers, we always listened to ball games on the radio right after a lunch, usually of baloney sandwiches.

My grandparents were Tiger fans. No argument. But if the Tiger game was rained out, they’d switch the station to WLW in Cincinnati to listen to the Reds’ game.

It was during those National League games that I heard a lot about Jackie Robinson of the Dodgers.

Those days came back as I watched the PBS special the other evening about this man who broke the color barrier in the Big Leagues.

My son John and I had gone to see the 2013 feature-length film about Robinson at the cinema. This most recent TV special further fleshed out the details of the man’s extraordinary life.

I was reminded that Harrison Ford played the Dodgers’ club president Branch Rickey in the film. Well, the TV version of the Rickey character was just as believable. In any case, Rickey must have been one tough character to challenge the color line and bring up the promising ball player to the majors.

Rickey admonished the headstrong Robinson that he had to show the guts not to fight back. In the TV version this week, you got to see the abuse fans and other ball players subjected Robinson to.

He started at first base where base runners from the opposing team often spiked his foot touching the base. But Robinson also had to deal silently with abuse when he played other positions.

He starred as a hitter. During his 10 years in the majors, he often maintained a batting average of around 300.
One year, his average was .328.

Before his baseball career, he was a star athlete in basketball, football and track. The TV special, like the movie version, barely touches on such achievements.

Following his history-making baseball career, Robinson became a radio announcer, a salesman and a staunch advocate for civil rights. Like his mentor in that later role, Martin Luther King Jr., he was an eloquent spokesman for non-violence.

No surprise, he was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. This was in 1962. I can’t imagine anyone on the committee voting against the honor for this extraordinary man.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in my generation who grew up venerating sports heroes. Dad had been an athlete himself and often won honors as a golfer.

I regretted that he hadn’t lived long enough to see the TV special about Jackie Robinson. The special sure brought back a lot of memories for me, from players’ names to the pennant races in both leagues.

Of course, I had my heroes. But most of them didn’t live the exemplary life that Jackie Robinson did. No wonder buildings and streets from Brooklyn to Bakersfield, California are named in his honor.

Oh yes. They retired his number 42 long ago.

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Cell phone sense

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teenagers_with_cellphones-WEBA few years ago, my wife Toni and I were walking on a side street somewhere in New York City. I don’t recall our destination or what conference we might have been attending. Maybe it was just a trip to the city to shop and catch a Broadway play or two.

This I do remember. Ahead of us was a group of young people – five or six, sort of bunched together. I took them for friends, good friends. They were all talking.

Not to each other. They were all talking on their cell phones.

Our walk was just a few years ago. I wondered then and I often wonder these days what the cell phone technology has done to social relations.

Today, on my walk in Foster Park, my friend Bart and I were wondering about the same thing. I have figured out that calling or texting a message to my son or daughter is a good way of making a connection.

The same holds true connecting with a granddaughter.

You might assume that young people spend most of their day on their cell phone. But the research shows 90 percent of young adults make or receive no more than 10 calls a day.

But differences exist in how younger people use the cell phone.  They’re more apt to “text” a boy or girl friend to break up. The young person is more likely to be annoyed with you if you don’t answer promptly.

(That may partly explain why I get so few personal messages.)

At the same, cell phones seem to enhance relationships – at least for those younger people who regularly use the devices.

I can see both pros and cons. On the pros side, the cell phone can be a life saver if you see a person crumpling over, with his or her hands to their chest.

If you’re expected at 6 p.m. at a friend’s for dinner, you can pull off the road and call or text to say you’re running late. Which reminds me to argue for not making calls or texting while you’re driving.

I’m sure for lots of people, the cell phones can help them stay connected with others. So what if they’re not discussing philosophy or higher math. Calls on land-line phones don’t usually engage in such intellectual exercises, either.

On the negative side, a driver on his or her cell phone has sometimes caused a serious accident. I’m sure, too, that frequent calls or texts have damaged relationships.

The frequent messages I get on the laptop and the cell phone almost always are inviting me to subscribe to or buy something. I know you can always say you don’t want to be contacted again.

I guess I’m just too lazy to take the trouble to request to be put on a don’t call list. So the messages keep coming.

Of course, as with the young group we walked behind in New York, talking or texting while with friends can be off-putting.

One time at a writer’s conference in Charleston, I joined a younger group to go out for dinner. But it was impossible to carry on a conversation. Several friends were on their cell phones.

I’m pretty sure nobody thought he or she was being rude. I did.

I found research that suggests cell phones can enhance friendships.

For my part, I’m at peace with how the devices have changed and perhaps enhanced relationships and helped connect us to one another. Meantime I expect the manners of texting and talking on the phones will continue to evolve.

Perhaps one of these days I’ll take the trouble to inform advertisers to please take me off their list of people to contact.

No hurry, though.

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In praise of a good walk

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Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Sure it was raining this morning. Not hard, though.

But I slipped on my Gore-Tex jacket over a sweatshirt and headed for Foster Park.

Yes, it’s spring – early April. Still, if the temperature dipped much lower, I might have found patches of ice on my way to the park. No problem with ice. I would have attached spikes to my running shoes.

In truth, I’m done with jogging. Not only the stress fracture on my left heel. Walking briskly doesn’t bother that. Besides, my balance isn’t so good that I can be sure that I won’t risk a fall. A broken whatever from a fall and I might just be done for.

So I walk. Safer. And I’m more apt to take note of how the woods that line the Maumee River have recently come to life. The trees are starting to bud out like an artist who has just started to sketch background to his canvas.

The sparrows and newly arrived robins greeted me as if they’d been waiting for hours to say “hello.”

Today I was early enough that I only met one other walker. From him, I got a gesture that I took for a greeting. Some people just don’t get fully awake until late morning, if then.

Of course, I’m never completely alone on my four-mile walks. In an earlier incarnation, I taught literature in high school and college. Through the works of the greats, I join other dedicated walkers such as William Wordsworth and Franz Kafka. Yes, I include Thoreau and Dickens, who thought it nothing to cover 30-miles a day. Virginia Woolf was another committed walker.

I guess the example of such luminaries sufficed for Apple’s creator Steve Jobs. He conducted staff meetings on long walks. Early in the day, I’m usually by myself, although my wife Toni sometimes joins me. Mid-morning I might be greeted by “the guys,” a group of black friends.

A good walk in the park is their ritual, too.

I’m sure my daily routine keeps me reasonably slim. But I’m careful about what I eat anyway: only fish, no pork or beef, lots of fruits and vegetables, rarely dessert.

I truly enjoy the daily walk. It’s as relaxing as any other hour and a half of the day. I’m sure the walk helps me sleep well, as well as a 77-year-old male is able.

Best of all, walking allows me leave any worries behind. I’m free to celebrate the wonder of the changing seasons. I’m free to be ever so thankful for my marvelous, caring and creative wife. I’m free to be thankful for our interesting, talented family – every member, including a five-year-old named Mayzi.

Snow or sun, rain or shine, it’s hard to beat a good, long walk.

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Remembering Dr. King

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Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

I confess. I’m a King idolater.

That’s one reason my wife Toni and I joined 150 or so citizens to march from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge downtown to First Presbyterian Church for a service.

The old church’s sanctuary has always made me want to bow my head and be silent. Maybe it’s the mood the blue, red and amber stained glass windows creates.

I wouldn’t miss such a service as the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination approaches. I always meet old friends from our city’s civil rights struggles. Our district councilman, Jeff Paddock, greeted us. As did the county sheriff and police chief.

As we settled into our pews, the senior pastor of First Pres, Jeff Lehn, welcomed everybody.

Then, one of my favorite preachers, The Rev. Bill McGill, read Dr. King’s “I”ve been to the mountaintop” speech. That’s the one he delivered just hours before he was assassinated. I thought to myself this is as good as it gets for a King memorial service.

But then it got even better.

The guest speaker was The Rev. C.T. Vivian of Atlanta. I can’t say I recall the name. But this white-haired gentleman had marched along side Dr. King during the great civil rights demonstrations of the 1950s and 1960s.

I noticed that he carried a sheet of paper to the pulpit, which was the same pulpit that Dr. King spoke from when he visited Fort Wayne in 1963. But if this sheet of paper was his sermon, he sure didn’t need it. Rev. Vivian looked at the congregation the entire time he spoke, never once glancing at his text. (If that’s what he carried to the pulpit.)

It was the kind of delivery I prefer. Not preachy. It was more of a conversation this elder statesman of the movement was having with his people. He recalled the marches, the abuse by police and some ordinary citizens. He remarked on King’s eloquence. “I never got tired of hearing him, again and again” Vivian said.

Events here and nationwide this season properly commemorate the life and ministry of this extraordinary person. I was in a graduate class at the University of Cincinnati the evening Dr. King was shot. Before the class started, a fellow student, a young woman, made an insensitive, uncaring remark. I turned away in my seat.

We’ve traveled a long road toward racial justice since then. But as Rev. Vivian reminded us in his quietly eloquent manner, we’re not there yet. Dr. King said it in Memphis, “I may not get there with you, but I have seen the promised land…”

Every year, at such memorial services, we get another glimpse. I would’t miss it.

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Ides of March

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Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring
Foster Park as it will appear in April 2016

As I recall, the line appears in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

“Beware the ides of March.”

It’s actually about the end of March. But I get the “Beware” part.

Walking in Foster Park this morning reminded me of these lines from the Shakespeare play, one of several I taught to high school students some years ago.

At 8 a.m. or so the sky was overcast, so uniformly grey it looked as if it could commence to pour rain any time.

It wouldn’t have mattered. If it had started to rain before I left the house, I would have just put on my waterproof pants and jacket and headed for the park.

It’s not that I’m such a hardy soul. Walking my four miles-plus every day is my habit. If there’s snow or ice, I’ll strap my spikes on my running shoes.

Dreary is dreary, whether it’s raining to beat the band or just overcast and sprinkling a few drops. You remember then that April is almost upon us. And the May flowers.

The park’s road takes you around the golf course and the clubhouse on the east side. On the west side the road is lined with trees and bushes that lead down to the St. Mary’s River.

I admit the golf course was starting to perk up with mostly warm-weather green grass. So far today, no golfers had dared to start a round. Temperatures remained in the 40s.

The chill wouldn’t have stopped Dad. He had won a few golf tournaments. He scored a 72 on his last round of 18 holes before his cancer kept him house bound.

Somehow, today’s bleak weather had me thinking about him. I found myself glancing first at the still barren trees along my route and then looking at the empty putting greens, a lone flag at each one waving in the chilly breeze.

Yes, today Dad might well have been pulling into the parking lot and getting his golf clubs out of the trunk of his big blue Chevy. If he were with me on this walk, he would have named all the trees we passed.

This morning, I counted more than a dozen squirrels scampering around the trees. I assumed they had already dug up nuts they had buried before the snow fell in early winter.

Somehow, thinking about my golfer father and the bleakness of the still barren trees along my path didn’t make me sad. In fact, my daily hike never fails to perk me up. At the early hour I head for the park it’s a mostly quiet time in the city. I hear traffic pick up across the river but it’s just a friendly kind of hum.

I do confess I miss the daily jogging. It’s not only the stress fracture that developed on my heel a month ago. At 77, I know that I’m prone to trip and fall. Which would put me out of commission for some time. For long walks, not to mention jogging.

I don’t watch much TV, mostly the PBS Nightly News and Masterpiece Theater. I enjoy visiting with friends and family. Most of them live nearby. My wife and I are lucky to be connected to such nice people.

Beyond those relationships, and the true blessing they are to me, I celebrate my freedom to head out daily to the park for my walk. I did notice a cardinal this morning. One of my first this season. I bet he was enjoying the park as much as I did.

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Worry focuses the mind

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bloodI didn’t sleep well. Maybe three or four hours at most. It wasn’t the physical by our new and down-to-earth doctor at the Brooklyn Avenue health clinic that had me worried. It was the blood draw at the clinic’s lab after the physical.

My fears not only are exaggerated. They’re pointless. A blood draw takes only a minute. Maybe less.

But I do have a history that partly explains my anxiety. Over the years, I’ve had nurses or other therapists attempt to find a functioning vein. They’ve poked and poked and complained. A few apologized.

Once, a visiting nurse trying to draw blood wrestled me to the floor at my home to get a blood sample. This test was required for an insurance policy I had applied for.

When we lived in Washington D.C. in 1992 , I would go to Georgetown clinic for tests. The paper had an ad that solicited volunteers. There, the nurses were so skilled at drawing blood I hardly noticed the needle prick.

Today, after the doctor listened to my heart and otherwise checked me out,
I headed for the lab for the blood draw. The first specialist took one look at my arm in search of the phantom vein. Meantime, I mentioned that people often had trouble drawing blood from me.

She excused herself. A couple of minutes later, another person appeared. I think she was the lab’s director. She looked at both of my arms, wrapped a band around my arm and told me to clinch my fist. Hard she said. I scarcely noticed the needle.

What a relief. I relaxed as we headed to Hall’s neighborhood restaurant for an early lunch. I not only was relaxed. I was relieved. I should have gotten the lab director’s name. For my next physical, I’ll be sure to ask for her.

People will tell you not to worry. I’m reasonably sure that the same people who offer that advice worry about something, maybe a number of somethings.

What makes the more sense to me is to take action when you’re faced with something that causes anxiety. Often you can distract yourself from worry by getting busy at housework or some little job you’ve been putting off.

If it’s a parent, son or daughter you’re worried about, just give that person a call and ask how he or she is doing. Even if you’re still apt to worry about that person, you will know it’s based on reality and not your imagination.

As I discovered to my great relief today, sometimes a person’s worry is based on a lack of knowledge. In my case, I didn’t know I’d get lucky and have the head of the department draw blood.

But the experience reminded me that worry often is not based on reality. “Give to the winds thy fears,” the Bible says. I’ve always liked that advice. I’ll keep it in mind before my next physical.

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Farewell to Downton Abbey

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Sunday, we got to see the last episode of Downton Abbey twice.

In the afternoon, we joined several hundred Downton addicts at the historic Embassy theater in downtown Fort Wayne.

This series has been PBS’ most popular show in the network’s history.

At home, watching the comings and goings of the Crawleys at their estate, occasionally taking a side trip to London or hunting in Wales has been our Sunday evening routine over six seasons.

After the Embassy showing, we grabbed a sandwich at Henry’s bar across the street from the newspaper where I had written editorials for more than 20 years.

We weren’t finished with the Crawleys. At 9 p.m. we turned on PBS to watch the last Downton episode again.

I’m not sure the show was so wonderful that I had to see it twice. Of course, I tend to transform my favorite activities into traditions.

A more practical reason to watch the show a second time was that the Embassy didn’t feature subtitles. So with my hearing loss, I missed a lot of the dialogue.

At home, I could switch on the subtitle feature. Now I could discern what Lord Grantham was telling his wife Cora and what she was saying to him.

I had grown to like all the characters, even including the footman Thomas. This scheming servant grew on you over the months.

When he took another position at another mansion, I found myself feeling sorry for him.

Lady Mary had lost her first husband in a car crash. So she struggled with her love for another man who built and raced cars.

He ended giving up racing. Instead, he opened a fancy car dealership. That resolved Mary’s qualms.

I was amazed at how many loose ends got tied up. I’m sure I’m not the only regular viewer whose favorite actor was the legendary Maggie Smith who portrayed the Lady Violet Crawley.

The series creator Julian Fellowes gave Maggie a couple of cutting one-liners in each episode. I not only loved those lines, often delivered as asides. I loved this actor’s expressions.

I’m in no hurry to order a set of Downton videos. It seems somehow disrespectful. For now, I’d prefer to savor the memory of the Crawleys and a different world when people wore tuxes and gowns to dinner.

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Golden years?

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USHighway77SouthSign308KRudine
Larry Hayes is now North of 77 years old!

I’m sure I’m in better shape than most of the guys 77 years old.

I walk four miles plus in Foster Park every day, rain or shine, 90s or zero. If it’s icy, I just slip on my spikes.

If the snow is deep, I head for Glenbrook shopping mall once the streets have been cleared to walk for an hour or so.

I gave up jogging after I developed a stress fracture in my heel. But once that’s healed I probably won’t return to jogging. The risk of a fall is too great.

That, in turn, might lay me up for weeks if not permanently.

So I walk as fast as I can manage it.

I once heard New York’s famous anti-war minister William Sloan Coffin tell a congregation that it’s not so hard growing older.

“It just takes longer.”

That’s a big part of the story for sure. It takes me longer to get dressed for some reason. It takes longer to shop at Kroger’s, which I often do twice a week.

It seems to take me a lot longer to read the morning paper. It certainly takes longer for me to read a book.

“Grow old along with me / The best is yet to be.”

That’s how the poem begins. I don’t recall any of my students of long ago questioning the poet’s reasoning.

Of course, that was quite a few years before I had celebrated 77 birthdays.

I would argue that age has its benefits. No, people don’t step aside to let me pass at the store.

I don’t get asked for advice in matters of love or business. I do appreciate that son John calls me regularly to see how I’m doing.

But he doesn’t ask for advice or anything else. He doesn’t even sound as if he’s worried about me. Maybe he is. That’s OK.

Back to the benefits of aging. I’m sure I’m slower to anger. In fact, I don’t even recall a recent occasion when I got upset.

Sure, retired editorial writer that I am, I’m following the presidential race. I’m just not talking back to the TV or feeling especially distressed that the country might elect a real estate tycoon president.

That’s what I mean about the benefits. At 77, you can step back from the political debates and from the complaints in the city about garbage pickup or road construction.

Frankly, I love to feel somewhat removed from the national political debates. It’s a feeling that would have served me well when one friend called me “thunder in the mountain.”

I do take satisfaction that my writing for the paper helped spur the desegregation of the schools and the development of better services for people with mental illness.

When Mom, who still lived in Ohio, was in her 80s, we moved her to a retirement home in our Indiana city.

During her first years there, she still could play bridge and work crossword puzzles. So Golden Years Homestead, the name of the home, suited her well.

But her last years, as she grew into her 90s, weren’t so golden. Of course, I don’t know if that’s my future, as well.

I simply refuse to speculate on that. I mean to make the most of each day. I mean to be as good a husband, father, grandfather and friend as I can be.

I do miss the jogging.

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When the debates began

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Donald Trump
Donald Trump

I watched the Kennedy-Nixon debate at the Henderson family home in Lebanon, Ohio.

That started it all.

Ron Henderson taught English at the seminary in Cincinnati I was attending. I don’t recall why we drove to Ron’s home then. But I’m sure his mom had fixed a nice dinner for the professor and graduate students.

We all rooted for the vice president then. Professors and students at the school were mostly all Republicans.

Now here it is more than half a century later and the country is gearing up for a presidential election. Barak Obama is finishing his second term in office. This year’s race couldn’t be more different than the Kennedy-Nixon election.

Real estate tycoon Donald Trump leads the Republicans. Trump has party leaders in a turmoil. In debates he not only is given to crude, insulting remarks about others with him on the stage. The operative phrase is “loose canon.”

He takes positions that don’t square with GOP orthodoxy. New stories in the major papers tell how party leaders can’t figure out how to stop Trump. None of his opponents show the gravitas that could take him down to size.

In today’s Washington Post, veteran political reporter Dan Balz notes that so far no clear winner has emerged. Worse, the performance of most of the candidates, arguing and interrupting one another, show the Republicans big losers.

Trump’s defenders note that he seems to have brought new voters to the GOP. But interviews with Trump supporters reveal a deep dissatisfaction with the direction has been going.

News accounts don’t tell us how much this dissatisfaction has to do with having a black man in the White House. After all, politicians who dominate the Congress these days are conservative Republicans whose main job seems to be to block every proposal Obama puts forth.

So we’ve got a federal government that doesn’t work. Which brings me back to that 1960 presidential debate. In office, first Kennedy and later Nixon, both men sought accommodation with congressional leaders in the other party.

To be sure, the country never got to see the potential for good of both presidencies. Kennedy’s life was cut short by assassination; Nixon’s second term by impeachment.

Neither Kennedy nor Nixon took extreme positions. I wasn’t the only person not embarrassed for the country to see either one elected. Which doesn’t mean that I condoned Nixon’s second-term mischief known as Watergate.

By 1972, I had become a Democrat and voted for George McGovern. I didn’t like Lyndon Johnson but voted for him over Republican Barry Goldwater. During election years, I find myself remembering the candidates and how my own political views have changed.

During the 30 years I wrote editorials for the morning paper, I had scores of chances to interview candidates for state and national office. That gave me quite an education in politics.

I haven’t always voted for Democrats. The editorial board I served on tried to endorse the candidates who were the most capable and responsible. Regardless of party.

I still think long-time Republican Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana would have made a great president. I wrote the endorsements for his re-election to the senate campaigns.

I suppose the Hendersons in southern Ohio are still Republicans, although I’m sure the parents have long since died. Meantime, most of our friends vote Democratic, I’m sure. But every time a presidential election rolls around, I find myself recalling that drive to Lebanon, Ohio, and watching the first presidential debate live on television.

I’m thankful for the debates. They’ve made it possible for a voter to take the better measure of each candidate and to cast a more informed vote. I must add you still need to read the newspaper editorials.

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Walk, don’t run

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Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring
Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring

I guess March 1 is as good a day as any to launch one’s new exercise regimen.

I find it hard to give up jogging. Even though my jog probably looks a lot like a faster walk. When it’s your exercise, you’re entitled to call it what you like.

Mine was a jog. I say it was and my word is final, especially at age 77 and grew up as an only child.

No I didn’t stumble and scrape my hands and bang my knee yesterday.

My balance has been in the toilet for years. So my risk of stumbling during a morning jog probably has been higher than other joggers in their seventies.

But I didn’t just switch from jogging one day and fast walking the next. I don’t rely on my hunches or feelings.

I don’t just consult our family doctor or my physical therapist.

I spent years writing editorials for the morning paper. I didn’t just check my personal beliefs or those of the editorial board to craft an opinion.

I researched the issue. It’s a habit I’ve carried into retirement. And what does the research say about jogging vs. fast walking for guys in their 70s?

In a nutshell, the experts I consulted said the walking has about the same health benefits as the jogging. Plus, walking is easier on the joints and you have less risk of a fall.

So today I walked. About four miles, my usual route through Foster Park. Yes, my old body felt the urge to pick up the pace and break into a run. I resisted. I resisted because I knew that the walk gave me as many health benefits as the jog. And it was safer.

Would the switch be as good for other joggers in their 70s? It might well be the case. But too many variables enter into any person’s exercise practice for me to advise my fellow oldsters.

A lot of joggers have made a practice of a daily run for all their adult lives. The exercise has become a part of their identity. For other joggers, the mental health benefits exceed the physical risks.

Finally, most long-term joggers have had their share of injuries. Yet those hurts haven’t prevented them for getting back on the road. (In my case, I even jogged when it was icy in the neighborhood and in the park. I just slipped spikes on my running shoes.)

In the final analysis, everybody needs to find his or her own way to stay physically fit. Every day in the park, I meet others who are walking. And I see a few runners, most much faster than I ever jogged.

Hey, it’s a big park. The trail around the golf course is wide enough to accommodate a lot more people jogging or walking. I believe the daily routine has done me a lot of good. I’m fairly trim and have no serious health problems.

I’m no role model. But I applaud anyone who’ll give a jog or long walk a shot.

For my part, I should see if a fast walk every day keeps me in as good shape as the jog. At 77, I’m not about to fear change.

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