Walking as state's exercise? Not so fast

February 20, 2002|By Charles Schaeffer

LET ME say up front: I see only good intentions in Del. William A. Bronrott's proposal to make walking the official state exercise. It's certainly my second-favorite exercise.

My first, in warmer weather, is rising gingerly once an hour to reposition the beach umbrella and check the crab line.

Should Mr. Bronrott's bill become law and stick strollers on the sidewalk in place of those grim, shorts-clad, pain-racked joggers, more power to him.

There are, however, nagging problems with meaning -- or, as politicians tell us, "The devil is in the details."

Webster's New International Dictionary says "walk," or "valka," is a gift from Old Norsemen, who used it loosely as "to toss, drag and wallow." I lean to Definition 5, which identifies practitioners as those who "go restlessly about contrary to the normal course of nature." Yes, by Definition 6, the Webster's sages get around to conceding that "walk" is a method for "two-legged creatures" to "proceed without running or lifting one foot entirely before the other touches the ground."

The American Heritage Dictionary's first definition of "walk" is "to go or advance on foot; move by steps." Reasonable enough. But the second preference is "to roam about in visible form, as a ghost." So right off there's a definition dilemma.

Too bad Mr. Bronrott, a Montgomery County Democrat, and his 28 co-sponsors didn't check with me, an evenhanded person with no built-in self-interest in walking.

His bill was to come before the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee today.

I could have reminded Mr. Bronrott of the pickle Virginia is in for creating "a moment of silence" in the public schools.

Are we risking the wrath of word police, poised to pounce on the first gym teacher who says: "OK, kids, everybody on to the athletic field for 15 minutes of official state exercise!"

We already have our own word police problem with "Maryland, My Maryland", but maybe the legislature can strike a deal and settle for exchanging "Howard's warlike thrust" for his "snorelike strut."

The question remains, Mr. Bronrott's good intentions notwithstanding: When is walking walking? Not, we hope, when it's that stern stride with swinging arms and fists, straight from a newsreel scene in Munich (circa 1939).

Will the energy expended in a British-type "walkabout," a casual bird-watching ramble through the Cotswolds, qualify?

And just as important: Will management wonder darkly whether labor has been secretly slipped a juicy concession in a last-minute amendment declaring a "walk-out" an activity conducive to good health?

These concerns don't even take into account the uproar in the offing if walking should roam beyond Maryland's border and become the Official National Exercise. A stretch, you argue. Not when you consider that our last two Republican presidents might just jump at the notion of having a national endeavor named after them. After all, both are lifelong Walkers.

Charles Schaeffer is a free-lance writer who lives in Bethesda.

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