Spring has sprung at the University of Virginia, bringing with it one of President Teresa Sullivan’s most beloved hobbies, the Volkswalk. Sponsored by UVA Intramural-Recreational Sports, the Wahoo Volkswalk’s 5k and 10k course featured landmarks from three distinct centuries.
This year’s Volkswalk merged the natural beauty of the Rivanna Trail with the historic significance of the UVA Grounds. The first two kilometers of the walk included wooden bridges, creeks, rock formations, and then transitioned to Grounds with a survey of the Darden School of Business.
A couple from Indianapolis and their 12-year-old son, enjoyed the beautiful weather and laughed
as their lab mix named Huckleberry tried to catch tadpoles in the water along the trail.
Volkswalking transcends age, state and species. With broad appeal among veterans, it is easy to see why President Sullivan has participated in and volunteered at Volkssporting events for over 30 years. In fact, at the Wahoo Volkswalk, the American Volkssport Association presented President Sullivan the Certificate of Service Award for over 30 years of service.
We had the opportunity to talk with President Sullivan Saturday morning, learning about the sport’s beginnings in Germany after World War II, some of her favorite moments from the past three decades, and Volkswalking’s accessibility and growing popularity in the Charlottesville area.
What would you say to someone to encourage them to get into volkswalking?
For starters, walking is probably the most available exercise to most people. You might not be able to run or do a triathlon or something like that, but almost everyone can walk. It’s fun to do in company with other folks. The idea of these organized walks is that they take you to places that are either historically significant or beautiful, or both. I did one two weeks ago in Palmyra, along the Fluvanna river. So there were people there who were also on the trail but basically, you had the chance to just be alone with nature for a while, which is really nice. This one is a mixture of both, because we had the Rivanna River trail and we’ll be on the rest of Grounds.
Can you tell us a little bit about a particularly memorable volkswalk you’ve done in the last year?
Well Palmyra was nice because you can see Spring blooming in Virginia. And I really enjoy that one. I usually do one in Fredericksburg which is right around Christmas time and so you can see all of the lights in the evening which is very nice. It is in the Old Town of Fredericksburg and they do that every year in December. Those are really nice. I haven’t had a chance to do very many outside of Virginia lately, but I have done walks in about 40 states and three or four foreign countries over my lifetime. One of the great things about this is it is a great way to see another country – do a Volksmarch with their folks, in their country.
This Volkswalk movement began after WWII, when in Germany, people didn’t have much money. Basically, the whole nation was flat on its back, but they felt they needed to do something for exercise. So, towns organized these Volksmarches some of them in Europe will have 16 thousand people doing them. They’re huge. In the United States, the first Volksmarch was in Fredericksburg, Texas. Wherever you see retired veterans settling, Volksmarching tends to spring up because they did it when they were in Germany. I think that is one of the reasons Virginia has been a big site for it, Texas is a big site for it, Ohio is a big site for it, but every state has something.
Can you explain a little bit of what the significance this March has to the Volks community being that it is hosted by the University of Virginia?
We do this walk every Spring close to Founders Day. It’s an opportunity for the general public to come and see parts of the Grounds they might never see. If you don’t have a child here, or you didn’t go to Virginia yourself, it can look kind of forbidding, like where can you park and what buildings can you go to and is it ok to be here or there. So the Volksmarch basically opens it up for people and says, yep, here are the things you ought to see. There is a very detailed “points of interest” sheet that goes with this walk that shows people the significance of the statues, why the Darden School of Business is important, all those things. So we are actually telling the University of Virginia story to a different audience.
Can you explain the significance of the award the AVA – American Volkssport Association – gave you at the start of the Volksmarch?
That was for 30 years of service. So I first started Volksmarching in 1984. I’m sort of a behind the scenes volunteer. I do things like breakdown trails, help lay trails, and stuff like that. I’ve not been out in front, so I’m really pleased that they recognize this kind of volunteer work too.
What is the significance of the award they gave to Susie Fidler, the Assistant Director Business Operations, and the IM-Rec Department as a whole?
The award they gave to Susie is the VIP award, but we might translate that as meritorious service, because these walks are really seen as great walks. A lot of people today at the start point told me “oh I look forward to this walk every year.” This is such a good walk, so we’ve actually got a group of returnees who’ve come to this one every year. It is getting pretty well known – well organized, well run and at interesting places. We’ve done one at Monticello, Montpelier, and then here on Grounds; people are seeing things that they’ve never seen before. My guess is, not 1% of the walkers here even knew that the Rivanna Trail ran through the University, so it is a great way for us to tell our story. People like it for both the historical aspect and just the beauty of the Grounds.
How many steps do you think you’ll get on the Wahoo Volksmarch?
I’ll easily hit 10,000. No question, I’ll get my Hoo's Well challenge for today. I like the Fitbit because it keeps me motivated. Every morning I see how I did the day before and try to do better that day. I think it is great that so many of our employees took us up on the Wahoo Challenge. Again, because walking is the easiest exercise you can get. Even if it just means you cut your lunch hour short by ten minutes and you walk around the block, it is better than just sitting for 8 hours straight without doing anything else.