- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

ALBANY, Ore. (AP) - A YMCA helped change Donna Stokes’ life. This spring, she’s hoping to change the life of a YMCA.

Stokes, 52, is traveling to Albany from her hometown near Hartford, Conn., to kick off a cross-country walk from the Mid-Willamette Family YMCA to the YMCA she patronizes in Plainville, Conn.

She chose Oregon as her starting place to avoid the deserts and tornadoes she worried about facing in a southbound trek. She chose Albany partly because of the scarcity of coastal YMCAs, but mostly because she wants to draw attention to the Mid-Willamette Family YMCA’s capital campaign for a new building.

“I chose that Y specifically because they’re building a new Y,” she said in a phone interview about her adventure. “I want to get people interested in empowerment and fitness and just being inspired.”

The mileage? “Two thousand, nine hundred and eighty-nine - but who’s counting?”

Stokes said she’s always dreamed of walking across America. After two years of steady exercise, most of it at her home Y, she’s ready to lace up her sneakers and hit the road.

She’ll kick off her walk at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 12, from the Albany Y. She said she hopes her travels will inspire others to follow their dreams, too.

Stokes is hoping to keep to an average of 20 miles each day, all while pushing a cart with travel supplies, including extra shoes. She plans to send herself necessary items on the way.

The public is invited to keep up with her travels through a blog, https://donnaswalk. blogspot.com, where she’ll record her experiences: “All of it, sobbing and crying days and everything,” she said.

The YMCAs on either end of the country are planning monthly fitness challenges that correspond with Stokes’ travels.

“I said I wanted a Stairmaster (challenge) as I go over the Rockies,” Stokes said. “I think that’s reasonable.”

Stokes grew up during the counterculture years of the late 1960s and early ‘70s and took to heart their message of dropping out and changing society. But life’s realities, including single parenthood, got in the way.

In recent years, she said, the obstacle was herself.

“I was overweight, like a lot of people. You didn’t have to tell me. I knew it,” she said.

About six years ago, she got serious about change. She moved from New York back to her home state, gave up processed foods and started moving.

It wasn’t easy. “There were false starts,” she remembers. “There were failures. There were tears. I couldn’t go more than a block without feeling like I was going to pass out.”

The YMCA helped her keep her goals, she said. She joined activities that became favorite hobbies and met people who became friends.

“If I hadn’t had a place to go every day, and met people who had been on a similar journey, I don’t know if I would have been able to stick to it,” she said. “Now, it’s an integral part of my life.”


Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald, https://www.dhonline.com

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