Archived Story

Nation-walker hopes to spread healthy philosophy

Published 3:10pm Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Robert Sweetgall has a habit he just can’t break.

But, unlike chewing fingernails or caffeine addiction, Sweetgall’s habit is all about taking care of his body, and he’s hoping to teach his habit to the residents of Fergus Falls.

His habit is walking. The McCall, Idaho resident has been doing it for 29 years, and he usually logs about 40 miles a week.

In the early 80s, he logged a lot more than that. “I used to be a Dupont chemical engineer, and I lost a lot of my family to heart disease,” Sweetgall explained. Wanting to become more healthy himself and also promote a healthy lifestyle in others, Sweetgall quit his job in 1981 and began brainstorming the best way to get his message to the public.

The solution he decided on was to walk the perimeter of the US. In 1982 to 1983, Sweetgall walked and ran 10,608 miles, stopping to speak to companies, schools and other groups along the way.

“I thought that would be better than holding out a coffee can, trying to raise money for the heart association,” he said.

In 1984, Sweetgall took another walk, this time taking a winding route that allowed him to step foot in all 50 states (he was flown into Alaska and Hawaii). The trip took him exactly a year, and he walked 11,208 miles, an average of over 30 miles every single day.

During both walks, Sweetgall got a lot of media attention, further helping him to get the word out about healthy living. “The educational and motivational value of that to me was much stronger than to do another … fundraiser,” he said.

Since those two treks, Sweetgall has written books about healthy living and has toured the country to speak to groups about his adventures and philosophy. On Tuesday, Oct. 19, he will bring that message to Fergus Falls.

Throughout the morning, he will be speaking to elementary school students, the Sunrise Rotary and the Lakes Country Service Co-op. At 10 a.m. through 11:30 a.m., he will be talking to older adults at the senior center about active and meaningful living throughout the aging process. This seminar will be free and open to all older adults.

Also free and open to the public will be three talks Sweetgall plans on giving throughout the day at A Center for the Arts. At noon to 1 p.m., people can attend “Motivation to Move: Fitting 6,000 Footsteps into a Frantic Day;” from 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m., Sweetgall will speak on “Nordic Walking 101: Building Muscle, Burning Fat with the Ultimate Total-Body Walking Workout;” and from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., he’ll present “Motivation to Move: Five Great Physical Activities for Reducing Weight, Stress and Your Rate of Aging.”

Though all three events at A Center for the Arts are free, people interested in attending are encouraged to call Kathy Sporre at 736-6842 to let her know how many people will be at each seminar.

“I tend to make (my talks) more entertaining,” Sweetgall said, explaining that he peppers his speaking engagements with funny anecdotes and stories of his life on the road.

One of the things Sweetgall really wants to emphasize in Fergus Falls is Nordic walking, or walking while using poles similar to cross country ski poles. Sweetgall said this form of walking is the best for many people because it relieves back and lower body pain while also burning up to 40 percent more calories than walking without poles.

“I’m a real strong believer in Nordic walking,” he said. “You involve the whole upper body.”

Throughout the years, said Sweetgall, he’s continued his crusade to make America healthier in order to leave a positive impact. He said he likes to imagine how people might be affected by his words 20 or 30 years from now. “You never know, but all we can do is try,” he said.

For more information about Sweetgall, visit his website at

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