Presidential Paths: Volkswalking with Teresa Sullivan
By Elise White
I had the pleasure of speaking with President Sullivan, against the grand backdrop of James Madison’s Montpelier mansion, about her passion for Volkswalking and the unique experiences she’s gathered from participating in walks. She graciously allowed me to interrupt her stride as she was headed toward the trail accompanied by her polished walking stick and official Volkswalking materials.
Q: Tell me a little about your passion for Volkswalking, how many you’ve done, and when you started.
A: I started in 1984 and it was mostly because I had two kids by then and I really needed some exercise. This was near my house and it was walking around town in Austin, Texas and I thought well, how hard can that be? And a man began to walk with me, his name was O.W. Maxy, who’s kind of famous in Volksmarching history. By the time I’d done 10k with him, I was convinced that this was something I really needed to do. So, I started Volkswalking in Texas where there’s a lot of it.
But I’ve done it in a lot of places. I’ve done a walk in Stonehenge, I did one in Hadrian ’s Wall in Scotland, I’ve done a vineyard in France. So, you can do it anywhere in the world, just about. Here, in the United States, we have a network of clubs and the clubs organize walks. We organize this walk every year, sometime close to Jefferson’s birthday. This is our fourth walk and we’re fortunate because given where we’re located, we’ve got so many beautiful historic sights. So, this one, with Montpelier, came about because Kat (Katherine Imhoff, President of Montpelier) and I met and had lunch one day and we talked about what a great place this would be to walk. And as you can see, it is.
It’s beautiful countryside, it’s a gorgeous morning. You go at your own pace, it’s not competitive. You can compete with yourself if you want to but other than that, it’s not competitive. People bring their families, it’s really a family activity. At some walks, you can bring your dog. I think the dogs are here [laughter]. It’s for fun and fellowship and I’m really glad that UVA is a part of this now.
The other thing I’d like students to know is that walking is a great lifetime activity. It may not look like much fun when you are 18-22 and you can do lots of other things, which is great, but you can always walk. The only equipment you need is a pair of shoes. As you get older, you will find that sometimes walking is the very best exercise that you can do because other things happen in your life. In my case, it was kids. So, what can I do pushing a stroller? Well, it turns out Volksmarching works pretty well for pushing a stroller. So, I’ve done plenty of that too.
Q: What were your best and worst moments Volkswalking?
A: Okay, so my worst moment was in Oregon. It was a driving rain. It was so muddy that we were all falling down. It was really grim. So, we truncated that walk at 5k because we couldn’t have gotten any wetter. I had already fallen down three times, I really just didn’t want to keep up with that [laughter]. So that one was pretty tough.
My best, oh well, there’s just too much competition for that one. There’s just been magnificent walks in all kinds of places. We did a torchlight walk for one of the AVA (American Volkssporting Association) conventions on the mall in Washington, D.C. where there were a couple of thousand Volksmarchers, all of us with torches. It was really cool. That was a great one. But there have been lots of great ones.
I have to say that the one that was in 2011, which was our first Cavalier Volksmarch, was pretty special too. It was on Grounds, and I talked to so many people who said that they never knew this was here. So, it turns out that you can lay out a great 10k on Grounds [laughter].
Q: Is the Cavalier Volksmarch something you want to continue here?
A: Oh, absolutely. I think we have unlimited potential for terrific walks. By the way, there are other Virginia Volksmarch clubs that organize near us. There’s a really active club in Fredericksburg that has some wonderful walks. There is a year-round walk you can do in Charlottesville, so you can start down at the Charlottesville visitor’s center any time of the year and do a walk around Charlottesville. And there’s one in Staunton that’s year-round. There’s a lot of it all over Virginia. If you go to ava.org, you can find a list of all the year-round events.
There are two kinds of events. One is a walk that you can do anytime. Just sign up for it and do it, you can do it by yourself. There are events like this one, called regular events, where you’ve got a lot of people, you’ve often got food, and it’s very festive but it only happens over a one or two day period. So, it’s nice, I think, in your Volksmarching career to mix the two together and some of both.
The last year round event I did was in New York City, which was pretty exciting
Q: You’ve said that the walk is about fun and fellowship, but I was wondering if you have one particular favorite element of doing the walk.
A: You know, I find that after you’ve been walking about 30 minutes, [it’s] a kind of contemplative activity. Your body is in a rhythm, your mind kind of slows down, and it’s a good time to solve problems for me. I’ve done some of my best thinking when I’m out on a Volksmarch. That’s one of the things I prize.
It’s also a great fitness opportunity. I’ve reached the age where walking is highly recommended by doctors for fitness. I like being able to do that for myself and I also think it’s useful for the UVA community to see me out walking [laughter].
And we’ve had some really inspiring stories at some of these Volksmarches. The first year, we had a man who did the Volksmarch to celebrate completing cardiac rehab. He had come back from a heart attack and the way he celebrated was to do a 10k walk with us. I just thought that was a great story.
Elise White is a fourth-year College student majoring in English and African-American Studies. She writes for IM-Rec Sports and loves to sing, laugh and learn people’s stories.