May is National Physical Fitness month. It’s the perfect time of the year to encourage people to walk and exercise more. One of our listeners told us about a man in his neighborhood who doesn’t need that encouragement. This man's quest for better health has turned into a decade of spreading goodwill.
It’s 7:30 in the morning. This suburban-looking neighborhood in the heart of Huntley is slowly waking up. Garage doors are opening. Cars are taking people away to work and school. But one resident who lives along Haligus and Kreutzer Roads won’t be using a vehicle today. In fact, his morning routine for the past ten-plus years hasn’t involved turning on the ignition. He just needs a good pair of walking shoes and a lot of pavement.
Many of those who live around here, including Linda Berry, know exactly who this person is.
“Oh yeah, I see him all the time. Sometimes I see him when I walk or run or whatever, ” Berry said.
Down the street, Lisa Wood says just about every morning she sees the friendly man who is known for two things: taking a morning walk and emphatically waving to just about everyone he sees. But like others, Wood says he’s a bit of a mystery.
“We know of him, because we always see him waving. But nobody really knows much about him,” Wood said.
Along with that mystery come urban legends about this man’s daily routine. The stories floating around these streets are a collection of mismatched facts about why this neighborhood fixture does what he does every morning.
To put all of those facts in the right spots, I caught up with the man himself, not while walking, but outside his home. The man’s name is Richard, a retiree from Chicago’s South Side. He did not want give his last name, nor did he really want someone following him around. But he was willing to sit in his driveway and tell me how it all got started.
“My brother asked me, because our dad died young of a heart-attack, to make a promise to him to keep doing something physical,” Rich said.
To keep his promise, Richard started jogging. But he says it was hard to keep up, so he just slowed down the pace and began walking each morning. To avoid being struck by large trucks coming from a nearby industrial area, Richard got used to executing a quick wave to traffic while on his route.
“When I started waving, just to acknowledge cars down there, people started waving back after seeing me for several months,” Richard said.
And that’s when a simple safety gesture turned into a deep bond between a friendly pedestrian and a neighborhood of motorists willing to wave back.
“I thought that was fantastic. So I make sure I try to wave to anyone and everyone,” Richard said.
Richard might not really know the people he’s interacting with, but for that brief moment, there’s a connection that goes beyond a simple greeting. Sometimes, that connection can become a little emotional.
“They usually say ‘I’ve had a bad day and I’ll see ya walking.’ It gets them to the point of tears,” Richard said.
You can tell that Richard himself gets a little emotional thinking about it. Not just for the connections he’s made with motorists, but for the promise he’s keeping in the memory of his late father.
To show his appreciation to those who wave back, Richard had a special jacket made with a thank you message. He says the responses are another big reason why he keeps doing this.
“I wanna thank them for always waving, beeping, flashing their lights,” Richard said.
Richard says he plans to keep walking and waving as much as he can to inspire others – one step at a time.