By keeping cool at Annapolis Mall, area walkers stay on fitness track

NEIGHBORS

August 05, 2002|By Kimbra Cutlip | Kimbra Cutlip,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHEN THE temperatures soar to record heights as they have in recent weeks, many walkers move their fitness regimes inside to the mall. Hours before the stores open, Annapolis Mall bustles with scores of walkers zipping around the concourse like ants in a procession.

"We had close to 200 people in here on one really hot day," said Susan Caldwell, 57, of Herald Harbor. Caldwell, a retired postal worker, staffs the customer service desk on weekday mornings when the mall opens its doors for the walkers. She said she took the job because she missed working with people.

"So now I come and greet mall walkers," she said.

As Caldwell greeted walkers one day last week, Howard Mackey, 76, of Edgewater kept up a brisk pace for his two laps. Clad in an aqua T-shirt that read "AM Power Walkers," he said hello to a few others as he strode past.

"I walk outside in the fall and spring," he said. "Sometimes I walk over at the Naval Academy."

But in the summer and winter, Mackey said, he hits the mall six days a week.

Dolores Strissel, 54, of Annapolis said she also walks the mall when the weather isn't good enough to walk with her dog through downtown Annapolis.

"I go around two times before work," she said. According to the walking map Caldwell distributes from the information desk, that translates into 2.16 miles. The map is marked every quarter-mile so walkers can keep track of their distance.

"I need exercise, and this is an easy way to do it. It's climate-controlled, there's music, and lots of things to distract you with all the stores."

Although the procession swells during the dog days of summer, a core group of regulars comes no matter what the weather. They form a loosely knit community of strangers who know each other mostly by face alone.

"It's like a small town," said Carolyn Costa, 80, of Parole. She and her husband, John, 82, walk a couple of laps around the mall every morning they can.

"It's safe, it's nice, you wave to everybody," Carolyn said. "Some people, they say this is the social activity for the day."

Indeed, Ralph "Rip" Ripperger, 75, of Mayo incorporates as much chatting as he does heart-pumping exercise into his morning walks. Ripperger, a tall man who speeds through the mall waving at everyone in large gestures, and wearing a broad smile and a white baseball cap, is hard to miss. He said it takes him about an hour to walk the mall.

"That's 15 minutes of walking and 45 minutes of socializing," he joked. Rip walked 470 miles in the mall during the last quarter and said he enjoys making the most of his walks.

"Half the time," he said, "people won't talk to you at first, but after you speak to them a couple of times, they'll start saying good morning and then they'll start talking to you."

He seems to know everyone, and everyone certainly knows him.

"He's like our commander," said Carolyn Costa. "If Rip's missing, everybody gets worried."

As she described the way the walkers look out for one another, Jenny Wallace of Annapolis approached the desk and asked if Caldwell had seen one of the other regulars. They determined he must have just been running late, and Wallace went on her walk with concern showing on her face. A few minutes later, she returned to say she had found him.

Caldwell said some regulars call her if they won't be there so she can relieve other walkers' concerns.

Although they don't have to register, Caldwell said the mall wants walkers to wear an "AM Power Walkers" button with their name and emergency numbers printed on the back. For those who to register, Caldwell keeps track of mileage walked.

She keeps records at her desk for about 35 walkers who log their distances with her. Many more keep track of their mileage on their own. At the end of each quarter, the mall holds a breakfast with a guest speaker and achievement ribbons for all the walkers.

Eileen and Glen McConnell of Annapolis, who describe themselves as "well into" their 70s, said they've enjoyed some of the quarterly breakfasts. They walk the mall five days a week. "We tried walking in the neighborhood a couple of years ago," Glen said, "and it's hard duty if it's raining or hot. Here you can do it year-round."

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