“The doctors told me I should be on a regular exercise program,” said Johnson, 71, a Spokane Valley resident who recently logged top mileage among Spokane members.
“My brother died of diabetes and heart failure. They were telling him to exercise and he didn’t. I kind of use him as my inspiration.”
Johnson has some friendly competition from Bob Conquergood, a Coeur d’Alene area resident who tallied more than 2,500 miles during Striders’ membership year that ended Aug. 31. Conquergood, 70, joined the group 10 years ago to strengthen his back.
“I walk mostly to keep my back under control, and it’s served me well for that,” Conquergood said. “In 2006, I came back from a month-long trip with lots of sitting, and my back started hurting, so I decided I’d try Striders.
“I got my back fixed a couple of years ago, but I still do it for my back and to keep arthritis under control.”
While the two men hold current highest-mileage billing, Striders as a regional walking and exercise group has a number of members who walk annual distances of between 600 and 1,000 miles. Founded in 1995, the nonprofit has about 60 members who range in age from 60 to 90-plus and live both in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas.
With a $15 membership fee for the group’s year running Sept. 1 to Aug. 31, members join in regular daily walks, group fitness classes, social activities, newsletters and prizes for different walking levels.
Members track their mileage both from trekking distances alone and in groups that walk at different venues: parks, neighborhoods, malls and the Centennial Trail. Working with business sponsors, Striders gives out awards such as gift certificates at quarterly meetings.
The group also attracts people who have some physical challenges, including a few members who walk with canes or wearing oxygen. Many friendships are forged covering the miles.
“We have this wonderful support system,” said Carol Stobie, 78, a longtime member who has made enduring friendships in the group. “I often wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t joined Striders 20 years ago.”
Judy Lanphear, 79, said the group’s members tend to be over age 60, but anyone of any age is welcome. She joined Striders with her 84-year-old husband, Jim, in 2002.
“We’ll have visitors, and grandkids come along,” Lanphear said. “The camaraderie, the friendships, that’s what we really enjoy, spending time with people. During the winter, we do the exercise classes and we walk in the mall. A lot of us do 3 miles on the Centennial Trail.”
Starting Sept. 19 until mid-May, the group holds exercise classes on Monday and Wednesday mornings for strength, stretching and balance. The sessions are led by a certified instructor at either Valley YMCA or Community United Methodist Church, at 1470 W. Hanley Ave., in Coeur d’Alene.
The classes are optional, and members can donate $1 in Coeur d’Alene or $2 in Spokane Valley to help cover facility costs, Stobie said.
Johnson, who joined Striders a year and a half ago, often gets up early to start walking alone before joining a regular group trek at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday. He lost about 35 pounds in the past 14 months.
“I figure I average 170 to 175 miles walking a month,” he said. “I used to be a runner years ago.”
Group members call him “Cross-country John” or “Tattoo John” because of the abstract art tattoos on his arms. He and Jack Quinn, 77, traded stories before a 3-mile Striders walk on Aug. 17 at Liberty Lake. Johnson and Quinn, who had logged 1,306 miles as of the August outing, were among 41 members who gathered for the trek and a potluck.
“He’s a walking machine,” said Quinn, about his friend. “This guy’s up at 5 a.m. and goes 4 miles before he catches up with us. When we walk the Centennial Trail, he’s off into the mountains. We’re walking, and here he comes out 600 yards ahead of us.”
While a majority of members shift to walking in either the Spokane Valley Mall or Silver Lake Mall for the winter, Johnson mostly remains outdoors year-round. Occasionally, he’ll join in laps of group members circling the mall or go to the group’s fitness classes at Valley YMCA.
“Once or twice a week, I’ll meet up with them just to let them know I’m still alive,” he joked.
Conquergood also supplements his daily Strider walks with some time hiking area trails, including at Mica Peak and near Harrison Lake. He often takes a familiar lap around his neighborhood, covering 3.2 miles and “lots of hills.”
“I pretty much walk every day in the Silver Lake Mall,” Conquergood said. “I also go out hiking. You got to do that to accomplish the miles.”
He thinks his regular walking activity helped him heal faster after a 2014 surgery on two discs in his back. He started walking a mile and a half each day after leaving the hospital. Today, he averages much longer stretches.
“I go mall-walking for 5 miles at a minimum,” he said. “My average so far this year is about 7.7 miles a day. I keep it all on a spreadsheet.”
“It keeps me busy,” Conquergood added. “I can pretty much eat whatever I want to and not gain much weight. I’m in general good health.”
Johnson describes how other Striders who are older by a decade or so impress him with their quick clip. Combined, Coeur d’Alene members had walked more than 18,000 miles as of May. Spokane Valley members tallied 15,000 miles together.
“It’s amazing how many people who are older than me, how many miles they walk,” Johnson said. “Some of the ladies are 75 to 85 years old. They walk anywhere from 600 to a 1,000 miles a year.”
“The Striders group is absolutely phenomenal,” he added. “Every Friday, they go to a local place to eat breakfast. They do so much volunteer work in the community, like for Meals on Wheels; several work Bloomsday.”
Johnson said his fitness routine now encouraged by Striders is helping him keep in good health.
“I don’t have diabetes at all.”
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