Opinion

Penkava: Walk swiftly and carry two skinny sticks

I used to be a jogger. I’d get up early in the morning and put on my jogging outfit.

This ensemble consisted of my well-worn faded blue 100 percent cotton sweats, my 80 percent off Kohl’s gym shoes, and my Cubbies cap with 0 percent World Series experience.

Notice that I didn’t mention anything made of Spandex. The word “spandex” actually comes from the rearranging of the letters of the word “expands.” Since the purpose of my jogging is to de-expand, I thought it would be psychologically counterproductive to wear this fabric. Now if they had a material called “Remsped” that came from the letters of the words “Mr. Speed,” then I’m wearing it 24/7. In neon purple.

But regardless of what I am wearing, my jogging days are over. Gone are the days when the slower joggers wondered what that blur was that just passed them by. Gone are the days when the walkers with flailing elbows stared enviously as my flying heels left them in the dust. And gone are the days when the nice older ladies walking their dogs were spun around in their tracks by the zephyr-like blast of my cyclone-like speed.

What changed me from a wide-eyed hurtling cheetah to the Amazing Sloth Man? In a word, knees. Yep, the old bony projections sticking out in the middle of each of my legs. My doctor tells me there’s more to my knees than just the bumpy part. Evidently there’s stuff underneath the bumpy part that is sick and tired of getting knocked around after playing some 60 years of ice hockey. So the doctor gave me a choice: run and limp and swell and groan, or walk and smile and whistle a happy tune. Reluctantly, I chose to become a happy whistle-faced walker. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah!

But my doctor gave me an additional suggestion. He told me about these things called walking sticks. You strap them onto your hands and use them like ski poles. Supposedly they ease the stress on your knees, help you with your posture, and give you a more complete workout. “Oh, boy,” I thought, “Now I’d gonna look like some kind of weirdo while I’m walking.”

I went online and researched these walking stick things. Apparently they are the rage in Europe. But then so is chasing a speeding wheel of cheese down a hillside. However, the more I read about these skinny sticks, the more I wanted them.

They are lightweight and have these cool Velcro handgrip thingies that strap your hand onto the stick. Oh, you don’t call them “sticks.” They are called “Nordic Trekking Poles.” So you really don’t go for a “walk” with these things. You go “trekking,” as in, “Honey, I think I’m going for a bit of a trek around the block, but down worry if I come upon some bumpy terrain or snow because I’ll be taking my Nordic Trekking Poles with the quick action-release handgrips.” That’s a zip-a-dee-doo-dah with a zip-a-dee-ay tossed in!

So I bought my trekking poles. I use them almost every morning on my treks. And, yes, sometimes someone makes a weirdo comment about them, like, “Hey, where’s the snow?“ and, “Dude, forget your skis?” and, “Mommy, I’m scared! There’s that crazy stick man again!”

Yep, I’ve heard ‘em all. But I don’t care. For I do not simply walk, I trek. I do not randomly flail my elbows, I rhythmically swing my poles. And I do not merely cover five kilometers, I travel 3.10685 miles. For the Amazing Sloth Man has now been transformed into The Trekinator, wearing his 100 percent Remsped outfit in all its glory. In neon purple, of course.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He is currently trekking in neon Remsped. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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