In 1963, President John F. Kennedy asked his military to prove they were in fine physical condition by marching 50 miles. (JFK was simply following a suggestion made by Teddy Roosvelt many years before). However, this was the cold war era and proof of strength and stamina served a useful purpose.
Before the military ever had a chance to test their troops, Robert F. Kennedy, the President's brother and Attorney General, walked 50 miles from Great Falls, Maryland to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia on the C&O Canal towpath along the Potomac. He instantly set a high bar for fitness. That walk encouraged thousands of others as the public began to walk distances they thought impossible. JFK's military order had turned into a public fad for walking long distances. Many ordinary individuals took the challenge upon themselves to test how fit they were. This was a publicity mistake turned into a fortunate event that helped boost the public’s attention to physical fitness.
Nearly 50 years later, the FreeWalkers, a social network of long distance enthusiasts, decided that an excellent project would be to recreate RFK's historic walk - especially since February 9, 2013 was the 50th anniversary of that walk. The FreeWalkers were interested in the physical challenge and the historical significance of walking the same route 50 years later. They invited others to join them and this became the reason for this website.
Everyone is welcome to participate in our annual recreation of this walk at about the same time each year. The event is usually scheduled for the first or second Saturday of February each year. Due to logistical problems last year (2016) this event was not held. In 2017, we are once again taking up the challenge and invite everyone to join us for our annual event.
Why Walk 50 Miles Anyway?
Besides the historical nature of reliving Robert F. Kennedy's accomplishment AND the accomplishment of thousands of others in 1963, their was wisdom in promoting the activity of walking. Walking can have a valuable place in your fitness routine - both for its physical and mental benefits. Walking does not take a lot of physical strength and is probably the most natural of human exercise.
However, a long distance walk does take a long time and requires patience, endurance and efficiency to finish. If you are already a runner, cyclist or part-time walker you may be able to walk a lot further than you might think. Our experience shows that people of all ages enjoy the challenge, regardless of the distance they end up walking.
Recently, there has been much concern about our nation's health and the need to exercise to avoid disease and to live an active and satisfying lifestyle. Even the Surgeon General's Step It Up! call to action has recognized what an import activitywalking can be in promoting the overall health. Walking is an exercise that can be done by anyone; young and old. But, more than a simple exercise, walking can be a form or expression of community. By creating a public challenge we can demonstrate to others that we care about issues that involve building better individuals and communities.
Can it Be Done Again?
Can the same long walk challenge taken up by Robert F. Kennedy 50 years ago create a new interest in long-distance walking for today? 1963 was a monumental year, with a different culture, so it is doubtful that any one event could move a large number of people to start walking today. But, whatever JFK's and RFK's motives and expectation were 50 years ago, their actions led many others toward fitness and personal challenge. Can the act itself and the dream of doing something beyond your own capabilities motivate a country again? Let's find out together.
Who are the FreeWalkers?
FreeWalkers, Inc is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization that offers events, information, & networking with a goal toward educating the public on the benefit of walking. We hold over 40 events each year. Our organization started in the New York/New Jersey area in 2010 and has branched out to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington DC metropolitan areas. Our walks range from historical tours to multiday International hikes. We invite everyone to join, Membership is free and most events are free of charge. We encourage members and particpants to help us continue these events with your generous tax-deductible donations. You can reach us at FreeWalkers.org, Facebook and MeetUp. We Walk the Walk!