Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Greatest Journeys Begin With The First Step

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Stratford resident Jeffrey Thompson walked all the streets of town—twice!

I have lived in Stratford, Connecticut since I returned from Vietnam in early September of 1970. My wife and I have raised and educated two children in the schools and on the playing fields of this town. In the mid-eighties we joined a workout club, and I began to jog with several members. In 1999, I entered and completed the New York City Marathon. Later, after a number of physical setbacks, I cut back on running and substituted a better phased walking program.

In the winter of 2002 I went out for a jog. Not two hundred yards from my house, I suddenly felt a sharp electric-like shock in my right hand and forearm. I shook it off and finished my run. Later, I began to feel numbness in my right hand. After much talking, a doctor visit or two, and help from my children (one a nurse and the other a pilates instructor), I was scheduled for an MRI. I had a crushed disc in my neck. I was soon scheduled for an operation and a cadaver bone was inserted. This all went well. Since there is no physical therapy for the neck, I was told to go out and walk. I walked with one of my children, but soon found repeating the same route to be rather boring. I needed something to spark my spirit or to set a goal. Suddenly I had a brainstorm: “I will walk every street in Stratford!”

With a town map from the Engineering Office, and a box of colored markers to chart my progress, I was on my way. It was easy enough to walk the streets close to home, but those far away required a ride to the area, as well as a ride home. My wife proved to be an excellent chauffeur. I studied the map of the town and marked out areas to walk by drawing the route with a ball-point pen on the palm of my hand. This very simple system was with me until the end of my travels.

It is simply amazing what you see when you are walking versus riding in a car. In 2002, patriotism was still very high. I saw flags of the red, white, and blue everywhere. The individual spirit shown in everyone’s yard and home was wonderful to see. The most memorable aspect of those walks was the people I met. Most everyone had a warm, friendly greeting. They were out walking, and I was out walking, so we had something in common.

After the first walk of the town (from June, 2002 to March, 2003), I began to look at other endeavors. I soon retired, but my first walk remained a signature mark of those years. I always wondered if I could or would do it again. Finally, in April of 2023, I went to the Engineering Office and picked up a new town map. Later, with more markers, I was on my way again. There were lots of changes in twenty years. The biggest may be a twenty-year change in the walker, plus the use of a cell phone. The cell phone made communicating with my wife very easy. Another change: not walking busy streets without sidewalks, where traffic is very fast. Those I would not walk.

Starting April of 2023 and ending April of 2024, I did the town again, minus a few corrections due to safety concerns. This, too, was a signature event in my life. No matter what people might say about Stratford, I never once felt afraid or nervous anywhere that I walked. I found nearly everyone to be warm, friendly, and helpful.

It is necessary for a few thanks:

  1. To the Marine servicewoman on James Farm Road: Thank you for your warm words.
  2. To all the young mothers and fathers walking your kids to school: It’s inspiring and gives me hope for the future.
  • To the custodians, in whatever building you worked, who let me use the facilities: Much appreciated.
  • To the friendly plumber I met: I stepped out of my wife’s car and you captured me in conversation that was time well-spent.
  • To the car drivers who waved to me as I waved to them: You assured me that you were watching.
  • To the teenagers, who warmly spoke to me or coldly ignored me: You have time to grow.
  • To my wife, who fully supported me both times I walked the town. She never once asked “why”. She made numerous changes to her schedule to accommodate my wish. I can never thank her enough.

A final thought: My first walk still resonates in several ways. I was never sure that I would or could complete the task. It is now firmly in my eyes and ears.

1 COMMENT

  1. As a walker myself, I found this to be an inspiring story, Jeff! What an awesome challenge you set for yourself and completed, not once but twice! Thanks for sharing and keep on walking! 👏🏻👏🏻

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