Among mall walkers, he's last, but first in inspiration

January 30, 1995|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

Charles H. "Everybody calls me Charlie" Buhrman is the slowest exercise walker in Westminster's Cranberry Mall. He tops out at just over 2 mph.

But he leads the Cranberry Cruisers in inspiration, said his friends and fellow walkers, Paul and Gladys Marshall.

Mr. Buhrman, 50, had always been an athletic man. He enjoyed downhill skiing, mountain climbing and any sport that involved speed.

One winter day 15 years ago, the Westminster resident and his son decided to go sledding, using an old refrigerator door as a toboggan.

"It was a good sled, but it didn't steer too well," he said.

The toboggan hit a tree. The Maryland Shock Trauma Center saved Mr. Buhrman's life, but he was paralyzed on his left side and is now retired on disability.

Two years ago, he took up exercise walking to try to lose weight. He walks with a cane and can't handle stairs, but he keeps going, an average of four days a week.

Mr. Buhrman said he hasn't lost weight, although he did manage to stop gaining.

But he has come to value the walkers' social life -- although some make the circuit with Walkmans plugged in their ears, others joke and talk.

Cranberry Mall has opened early in the morning for exercise walkers for about eight years.

Michele Grewe, mall marketing assistant, organized the group under the name Cranberry Cruisers in September 1994.

She got some complaints at the Cruisers' quarterly meeting last week that the mall, which had been open at 6 a.m. for walkers, changed the opening hour to 7 a.m. in September.

"It was purely a safety issue for us," Ms. Grewe said. She said the mall reduced staffing, prompting concerns from its lawyers about liability if any of the walkers fell or became ill.

A circuit of the inside perimeter of the mall is three-quarters of a mile. Walkers who log their mileage receive a sports towel for finishing 100 miles, a T-shirt for 500 and a fanny pack for 1,000.

Walkers who stick with the exercise will feel better and have more energy, said Carrie A. McFadden, a Westminster fitness consultant. Walking is "low-risk, nearly injury-free and anyone can do it at any time," she said.

But they probably won't lose much weight.

Walkers may lose a few pounds and gain a little firmness, but "if you're trying to lose more body fat, you have to do more of a resistance-type workout," she said.

Mr. Buhrman's friend Gladys Marshall does have some anecdotal good news for walkers who want to lose weight. She lost 10 pounds when she and her husband started walking regularly eight years ago and has managed to keep the weight off.

"I'm 70 now," she said. "When you go to the doctor and he tells me I'm in better condition than he's in, do you know how great that makes me feel?"

Mr. and Mrs. Marshall, Damascus residents, belong to the Francis Scott Key mall walkers club in Frederick in addition to the Westminster group. They walk every day except Sunday.

Varying the site as the Marshalls do is a good idea to help walkers stay interested, Ms. McFadden said.

"Go to a different mall, car pool, go outside the mall to walk," she suggested.

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