by Zelda Gebhard
As I climb into our family car on the morning of June 30, and we begin our drive across 453 miles to the in-person ACB 2022 convention in Omaha, Neb., I am writing to share my nearly year-long experience of walking to Omaha! I am celebrating achieving a goal which was surprising even to me when, motivated by my attendance at last summer’s ACB convention, I set it for myself! I hope you enjoy this account of my journey, and that you will find it motivating as well. Here goes: Walk from Edgeley, North Dakota to Omaha? Why not!
Part I: The Inspiration: July 30, 2021
Equally inspired by the trifecta of the kickoff of the “Get Up and Get Moving” campaign, the conclusion of the 2021 ACB Conference and Convention and the opening ceremonies of the 2021 Summer Olympics, a light bulb of an idea began to shine for me.
I have found through the years that attendance at the ACB convention has annually motivated me to seek more, do more and be more. I must say the 2021 virtual convention had the predicted effect on me. Add to that the encouragement to get moving for better health and increased advocacy coupled with the inspiring stories of goal-setting and achieving Olympians, and I was hooked! The undeniable thought was born, “I could walk to Omaha for the 2022 ACB convention.” Now, don’t misunderstand me, I don’t plan to literally walk to Omaha in time for the convention next July. What I am committed to doing is to walk the 453 miles from my home north of Edgeley, N.D. to Omaha, Neb.
So, at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 24, I began my journey by walking on the gravel road near my home. My faithful walking partners included my husband, Steven, and our golden retriever, Buck. They were unaware of my long-term goal and merely were happy to go for a walk with me. I must admit I waited until I had a few miles behind me before I revealed my plan. This morning, July 30, marks the seventh day of walking and now I feel confident that I will be able to achieve this goal despite my left knee, which has complained daily at the unaccustomed movement. Over the past seven days, I have walked 2 miles each day for a subtotal of 14 miles. I plan to keep that pace and hopefully increase it by day 14 to 3 miles daily. Here in North Dakota, I feel an urgency to walk while the walking is good, before the months of ice and snow begin. We never know for sure how long winter will last, but I suspect there will be approximately five to six months where the temperature and/or road conditions will force me to exercise inside. No worries, I have a plan for that. I have a stationary bike and indoor stairs in my home. By the time I need to use them, I will have a conversion in place so I can continue to rack up the miles that will get me to Omaha by July 1, 2022.
Why am I sharing all of this with you?
- They say if you share a goal with someone, you are more likely to achieve it. I believe the following “Goal Achieving Formula” has merit: dream and achieve 5%, write down and achieve 35%, set deadlines and achieve 65%, hold yourself accountable and achieve 95% of your goals.
- Even if you don’t desire to “Walk to Omaha,” perhaps you will be inspired to set your own unique personal goal.
What do you want to achieve in the next year? I challenge you to declare it to yourself, make plans of the daily things you will need to do to achieve it, and then share it with others.
Let’s unite in a movement of encouragement and empowerment. As Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do much.”
I’m on my way to Omaha and I only have 439 miles to go!
Part II: The Challenge
Goal setting is easy. Goal finishing is far less easy. The first few months of walking were enjoyable. The sun was shining, the birds singing, and I started racking up the miles. Then things started getting rocky.
After I announced my goal to walk to Omaha on the ACB Leadership e-mail discussion list, I was fully committed and in need of a method of keeping track of the miles walked. Marking my calendar didn’t seem to work well for me, so I switched to popcorn. I counted 453 kernels and placed them in a small jar. Day by day I transferred a kernel for each mile walked from that jar to another. Alas, a tangible way for me to see and hear my progress and know how far I still had to go.
Personal goal-setting was still new to me. Even though I have been setting and achieving goals all my life, those goals were not usually mine. They were usually for someone else – my family, church, work, and organizations.
I wanted to be successful, so I remembered to do it the SMART way. I’ve been told goals need to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. Was my goal specific? Yes, I planned to walk 453 miles in a year. Could I easily measure my progress? I could track the miles by walking from one section line to another and be confident that each earned me a mile. And then, of course, I had my jar and popcorn method of counting my progress. Achievable? I thought so, as my calculator revealed I only needed to walk 1.3 miles a day and, in the beginning, I was walking 2 to 3 miles each day. I was also convinced that my goal was relevant and timely.
This is where the shoes met the gravel. Yes, the road available to me is not paved. It is, however, seldom used and relatively safe. I could hear the cars, pickups, trucks, and tractors pulling machinery long before I could see them. Until my neighbors got used to seeing me out walking, many would stop to see if I needed a ride.
As the days went by, the scenery changed. The corn and soybean fields alongside the road grew and then matured. Soon the sound of the wind changed from a rustle of green leaves to those of dry leaves and rattling of pods on the beans. As fall approached the singing of the birds changed to the honking of geese heading south. Then hunting season began, and the traffic increased. Suddenly, it wasn’t just my neighbors on the road – the ones who had grown used to seeing me and slowed down to meet or pass. I found and wore a blaze orange vest so the strangers who now shared the road with me could see me more easily, even if I couldn’t see them.
When the beautiful fall weather, cool but the warm sun on my face, turned uncomfortably cold, I retreated inside to use my stationary bike.
Part III: The Journey’s End: June 30, 2022
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “Goals are easy to set but hard to achieve.” Many things look like a great idea when first conceived, but as time goes on, inspiration wanes and obstacles get in the way.
I set my walk to Omaha goal at the end of the 2021 ACB convention, when the Get Up and Get Moving Campaign was new. The opening ceremonies of the 2021 Summer Olympics pushed me over the edge, and the decision was made. I was going to walk the 453 miles from my house to Omaha in time for the 2022 ACB convention.
I live in rural North Dakota, no sidewalks, no pedestrian signals and thankfully almost no traffic. I started walking on the graveled township road that runs past my house, accompanied by our golden retriever, Buck, and sometimes my husband, Steven. Buck is always eager to go for a walk and is easily motivated by a few treats along the way. Steven likes a happy wife, so the only encouragement he needed was my smiles.
Everyone is happy, right? Yes, as long as the weather was nice, and I could manage to find time between Zoom sessions and other obligations to walk, all was well. Unfortunately, there were days that were more of a challenge, like the day the dog encountered a skunk, or when the piriformis muscle near my sciatic nerve began hurting and, following that, when my knee decided to get its own attention with pain and swelling.
I had planned for our North Dakota winters with below-zero temperatures, wind, ice, and snow. I would just ride my stationary bike, and so I did. It was great! I could pedal while I watched my favorite TV show or listened to an audio book from NLS. There were also days I would call a friend, set my timer, and pedal away.
I have to admit there were days when I didn’t want to get off the couch, and some days I didn’t. But not many, because I would remember the faith many of you had in me. It was harder to let you down then myself.
What had been just a goal, became a habit and now is a true joy. The time I spend exercising, whether inside or out, has become treasured “Me Time!” The break from my computer and phone allows me time to think, dream, and plan more goals! I have truly come to value and look forward to the time I set aside to make exercise a priority.
Fast forward to June 27, 2022. Buck and I walked three miles, and I was able to transfer the final three popcorn kernels to the other jar to join the 450 already there. What a fantastic feeling! I set a goal, conquered my challenges, and accomplished what I set out to do.
The benefits were many, but probably the greatest is that I gained confidence in my personal goal-setting and achieving ability. Now I know that taking time out of a busy schedule for myself may result in time better utilized.
I encourage you to set a personal goal. Make sure it is a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely). Remember, you increase the likelihood of achieving your goal if you tell others about it. It would have been far easier for me to abandon my goal to walk to Omaha had I not posted it on the leadership list last July. Thanks for keeping me accountable and for the encouragement you provided along the way.