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A walk across America without leaving the Island

A healthy — in more than one way— crowd of all ages participated in a group walk May 25.
A healthy — in every way— crowd of all ages participated in a group walk May 25.

On May 25, the Shelter Island School completed its second annual “A Walk Across America” challenge. Students, teachers, parents, grandparents and school board members were welcome to participate in a five-day event to promote fitness and school spirit, walking laps around the school track and combining the miles covered to attain a goal.

The organizer, physical education teacher Taylor Kelly, initiated the challenge last year with hopes that the walkers would log the distance between Shelter Island and New York City. Surpassing that the first day, she set a new goal to cover the distance between here and Disney World, in Orlando, Florida — 1,194 miles. Knowing that they had successfully reached last year’s goal, the school’s physical education department set a much more ambitious target — to walk the distance between Shelter Island and Disneyland in California.

A Walk Across America was born as a personal challenge for travel writer Peter Jenkins, who conceived his own journey of self-discovery, walking from New York to New Orleans and then on to Oregon during the 1970s. The Walk has been adopted by individuals and nonprofit groups as a fundraiser, with many schools participating to encourage student fitness.

“It’s really grown since last year, when grades Pre-K through 5th grade participated,” Ms. Kelly said. “This time, the whole school took part during their gym classes and a lot of students came before and after school to walk additional laps.”

Every participant received a card that was punched after each lap around the track, with 5 laps equaling a mile.

The Walk is a fitness event that nearly everyone, regardless of athletic ability, can undertake. Shelter Island High School track star Kal Lewis, who’s not used to so much company when he’s running, said he enjoyed “the nice vibe” of having so many members of the school community involved.

Parent Amanda Bartilucci, pushing 9-month-old daughter Nicolette in her stroller, cited several aspects she enjoyed, from providing snacks as a PTSA member to walking with her 2nd grader, Lexi. In truth, she was sometimes able to take a relaxed stroll, while Lexi speed-walked her baby sister, whom she calls Coco, in her stroller for several laps.

The temperature was hovering around 80 degrees as dozens of walkers covered their last laps and stepped under a canopy to get their cards punched. Then it was a quick, refreshing stop at a mister to cool off and around they went again. A light breeze picked up as the remaining classes began to emerge from the school for the finale.

“We were so lucky with the weather all week,” said teacher Brian Becker, noting how the cold, rainy spring had finally cleared out.

As students crowded around Mr. Becker to exchange each completed card for a new one, he let them ring a classic brass schoolhouse bell to celebrate each card. Then he quickly urged them back onto the track to cover more laps as the closing time approached.

PTSA Treasurer Lauren Meehan served watermelon slices, oranges and granola bars to the walkers, gently policing their distribution to ensure enough snacks for everyone. Third-grader Sadie Green-Clark volunteered that this year’s snacks were “better than last year’s” and a welcome reward for her efforts.

Fifth graders Jennifer Santos, Kenzie Montoya and Diana Duran multitasked, chatting and slurping juice from fresh slices of watermelon while they walked.

When the cards were tabulated, the team effort had covered 2,467.2 miles, more than double last year’s total, and just a few hundred miles — and maybe a couple of sprinkles of pixie dust — from the gates to the Magic Kingdom.

“This is a great event and this team did a great job,” said school official Todd Gulluscio, leading the assembled students in applauding the physical education teachers who had pulled the effort together.

Ms. Kelly expressed admiration for the school community that had greatly expanded the event’s reach. “I hope eventually we can turn this into a fundraiser,” she said, “and the walkers can get sponsors to support a cause of their choice.”