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Walking Towards Fitness

Local walking group proves the path to fitness is better with friends

Renate Cawart & Georgina Christy
Renate Cawart (left) and Georgina Christy have both noticed marked improvements to their health since they began walking regularly. Photo by Austin Fit Magazine
Rhonda Schlueter & Ed Cole
Rhonda Schlueter and Ed Cole. Photo by Austin Fit Magazine
Jerrell Sultemeier Doris Basham & Steve Free
Jerrell Sultemeier, Doris Basham  and Steve Free get ready for to work out with their walking group. Photo by Austin Fit Magazine

Editor's note: Each month, CultureMap features an exclusive story from Austin Fit Magazine. This month, the magazine introduces you to the 10 fittest men and women in Austin. The October issue is on newsstands now.

Famed motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar told a story of a 40-year-old woman who had attended one of his events and desired to become a nurse.  She determined that, on the basis of her schedule, achieving that goal would take five years, and that was far too long in her mind. Ziglar told her, “In five years you’re going to be 45, regardless of if you become a nurse.  That’s happening anyway. But if you go back to school you could be 45 and a nurse.” 

 “It is an incentive knowing you have to be here and that people are expecting you,” says Ed Cole, a walking group participant known for his smiles — and his punctuality.  

Dr. Elissa Thompson, M.D., a clinical cardiologist at Heart Hospital of Austin and with Austin Heart speaks the same truth with her growing Saturday morning walking group in Marble Falls. 

“If you can just do anything, you will be better than where you are!” she exclaimed with the enthusiasm of someone learning the philosophy for the first time. In Dr. Thompson’s case, cardio health is not only her vocation but her passion. 

Dr. Thompson’s passion is shared by her Saturday “family” in Marble Falls. “You just have to get out and do it!” proclaimed 74-year-old Georgina Christy.  Christy’s smile never leaves her face; her ailing knee and endurance are better and blood pressure is down since she began walking with the group in February. Her walking buddy Renate Cawart echoed these benefits and added that she is even taking less blood pressure medicine than when she began in the same month. 

The sweat-soaked pair joined fellow walkers Steve Free, Jarrell Sultemeier, and Doris Basham in espousing the benefits of walking, but all equated the health benefits with the camaraderie.  “We all encourage each other,” explained Basham as her counterparts nodded their agreement.

Dr. Thompson offered that the diversity of the group is special and, although about 60 percent of the walkers are her patients, there are seniors, children, and even the family dog joining in most weeks. There are also cancer survivors, widows, former pro-baseball players (Free), and there is Ed Cole. Cole is the glue that binds the group together, the person whom nearly every walker mentions when talking about the group’s history. After hearing Dr. Thompson pitch the idea during a Daybreak Rotary meeting, Cole jumped in and has missed only five times since day one.  He also brings others along for the experience. “It is an incentive knowing you have to be here and that people are expecting you,” he said between smiles at other participants.

On the basis of her study on the subject, Dr. Thompson intentionally partnered with local podiatrist Dr. Mark Krause, ophthalmologist Dr. Kelly Green, and Hill Country Home Health. She also utilized local businesses such as Noon Spoon, Kirby Eye Center (Green’s practice), and Salon on Broadway to provide incentives for walkers to continue with the program. 

As she explained, cardio health is a whole health endeavor, and every organ system benefits from it.  She is so passionate about the subject that she has secured research grants to quantify what she already suspects in a clinical setting, and a handful of the Marble Falls group will participate. “This is the highlight of my week!  It is the greatest feeling to see someone benefit and meet their goals,” Thompson said. When asked if she benefits as well, she excitedly walked the line between proud mother (“they are part of my family”) and physician (“you get greater opportunities to spend time in non-clinical settings”). 

Caroline Gipp and Rhonda Schlueter help log miles and walking times for Dr. Thompson and the participants. They acknowledge that many have lost weight—ten walkers have lost more than 15 pounds—and that 120 people have participated in some capacity since the program began.

But they share the good doctor’s purpose for showing up every week. “These people are our family,” exclaimed both while turning to greet Dale and Liz Seabaugh. The Seabaughs are co-chairing this year’s CASA 5K, and it is obvious that they know where to find prospects—in the hearts of their fellow participants and a champion cardiologist.
 

To read more about how you can walk your way to health, please visit Austin Fit Magazine.

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