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In Praise of Slow Fitness: An RFK Inspired 'Extreme Walk' This Weekend

Ready for the 50 mile walking challenge? Celebrate the Kennedy's legacy for fitness on the 50th anniversary of Bobby Kennedy's long walk.

Half a century ago this Saturday, then president John F. Kennedy challenged his brother Robert to walk 50 miles in a day. It all started when the White House stumbled upon an initiative that Theodore Roosevelt had made in 1908 which said that all Marines should be fit enough to hike 50 miles in three days.


Roosevelt was a fitness enthusiast, as were the Kennedys, and after learning of this mandate, John decided that the Marines of his day should be able to do the 50 miles in just one day. And for that matter, so should his staff. Not all were as thrilled at this prospect, but Bobby took this to heart and the next day set out with four of his aids and his dog Brumis on the treacherous walk with nothing but loafers to protect him from below freezing temperatures. He walked from Great Falls, Maryland to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, clocking in at 17 hours and 50 minutes.

This ambitious hike sparked enthusiasm for extreme walking and physical fitness around the nation. It encouraged thousands to take the challenge and see how in shape they were. On Saturday, a group of walkers are celebrating this "can-do spirit" of 1963, in 2013, by retracing the route Bobby took half a century ago. Walkers will gather at Great Falls, just like Bobby did. But more than a physical test, this group also hopes to build a sense of community during the day long event, as they explain on their website:

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. 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.

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So lace up your Oxfords and head down to Maryland for the challenge of a lifetime.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons