By Sandra Dempsey Post
Ron Lavish is familiar to many people in the subdivision where he lives. The slim, well-groomed, agile gentleman is seen walking daily, unless the weather is absolutely not conducive to being outside. By Ron's standards, that doesn't happen often, but when it does, he walks in his house, usually in the basement. His goal is to walk 10,500 steps each day, an accomplishment measured through his phone. He almost never falls short of his goal.
Whatever the outside elements, and however long he's been walking, he typically looks relaxed, comfortable, and focused. He'll chat with other walkers, but it's generally a brief conversation. His pleasant demeanor and faithfulness in pounding the pavement provides inspiration for novice walkers. His example silently encourages others to keep walking even if Mother Nature places obstacles, like snow, heat, or rain, in pathways.
He began the exercise regimen when he was 49 years old. He had a desk job at Caterpillar, and explains, "I knew I had to do something or I'd be 'checking out' a lot sooner than I wanted to." Mowing grass was his exercise at the time he decided to improve his health. "My supervisor at work was a runner," and Ron picked up a few tips and motivation.
When asked specifics of how he started, he explains, "First you have to decide what you’re going to wear. And you don't want to dress too warmly. If it's winter, dress for that, but don't over dress. For a runner, it takes about eight minutes for the body to rev up. It’s a little longer for that to happen if you're walking." Ron decided he'd be a runner, and very shortly into that inaugural run, he realized he was doing what most people do initially, run too fast, so he had to slow down and walk. "It's typically a speed problem in the beginning. It takes a while to build up your breathing and muscles." He ran/walked after work usually three to four times a week.
He continued building up strength, and eventually went to all running. He was able to run six miles, even with inclines and a hill or two and after a couple of years began competing in various races. "I liked competing with people in my age group," he says. When he was 75, he quit running because of what he thought were hip problems that kept him awake at night. It was later diagnosed as a back issue that surgery corrected. Running was replaced with walking.
His initial decision to become more fit was later followed by a decision to lose weight. "It's a matter of self-discipline," he says, and Ron is very disciplined. He encouraged his late wife, LaJoan, to join him on walks, and while initially she didn't think she could keep up, she later achieved success, walking two miles with him. The couple, who married in 1951—she passed away in February of 2012—was regularly seen walking together.
This past October 27th, Ron celebrated his 90th birthday. Born and raised in West Frankfort, IL—a coal mining town—he served in the United States Army from February 15th, 1952 to February 12th, 1954. His assignments included Kansas, Texas, and Korea. In March of 2013 he had the opportunity to travel on the Honor Flight out of Springfield, Illinois. "I would encourage everyone who is eligible to go," he says enthusiastically.
He hired in at Caterpillar in 1950 and in 1967 he and LaJoan, daughter Kendra, and son Matthew moved into a new home where he installed the heating, plumbing, and wiring, and where he still lives today. His family also includes teenage twin granddaughters. Retiring from Caterpillar in 1987, he says he "adjusted easily to retirement."
When asked about his hobbies, he responds, "I enjoy fixing things. If you need to fix something, go to Google. Someone has had the problem before," and he enjoys using other people's expertise. Being able to fix a variety of things allows him to extend the life of certain items much beyond typical expectations. His computer is from 1980; his car will be 20 years old after the first of the year; the kitchen stove was purchased at Montgomery Ward in 1967 when the house was built; and the toaster has been and continues to be toasting since the middle '50s. Ron mows his lawn, shovels snow, changes the oil in his car, and has literally torn apart his computer and put it back together again. He cooks for himself and is not a fan of restaurant eating. Diligent about his weight, if it goes five pounds over his goal, he cuts back on food intake. Each morning he weighs himself and continues to walk daily.
His advice to those wanting to start a walking for fitness program isn't complicated. "Get a partner to walk with you as that helps very much with motivation and encouraging each other. Wear good walking shoes. Try to regularly increase the distance you go. Be very careful of ice. The worse thing is falling. If you walk in the street during winter weather, be prepared to get splashed. Pick a distance you want to achieve and continue trying to make that goal. Wave at people.”
In addition to health benefits, Ron sites other perks including seeing neighbors, birds, squirrels, nature in general, the gorgeous sky at various times, and the self-satisfaction that often develops from healthy habits. His walking isn't competitive with others but is a way of achieving personal goals that contribute to his well-being.
For those interested in starting a walking program but are perhaps a bit timid about starting in winter weather, most shopping malls encourage seniors to walk inside the mall for exercise and there are usually places to sit down to rest.
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