Algonquin Striders, Walkers and Talkers celebrate sticking together through 14 years, hundreds of miles
Alice Jenkinson glanced behind her at a couple of stragglers, deep in conversation.
Rain drizzling, arms pumping, she kept walking.
"This is what happens sometimes," she said with a grin, the phrase "Take a Hike" printed in marker on the back of her T-shirt. "We leave 'em in the dust."
At age 87 and three-quarters, as she puts it, Jenkinson of Cary is one of the few originals and oldest members of a 14-year-old S.W.A.T. group that meets weekly to walk in the Hollows Conservation Area in Cary.
They're Striders, Walkers & Talkers. Rain, shine, snow, wind, whatever, they walk every Wednesday morning. "No matter what," Jenkinson said.
But they only walk as fast as they can keep talking, they say.
"And we can talk a lot," said Lynn Okeson of Cary.
Some are faster than others, and some walk farther, usually from 2 to 4 miles. Then they meet back for coffee and treats in the basement of the Algonquin Township office building along Route 14 in Crystal Lake.
Who gets there first, "depends on who wants the best choice of dessert," Jenkinson said.
Anywhere from 12 to 25 members, who sport their own T-shirts, typically show up and have since former Algonquin Township Supervisor Pat Floeter started the group in 1999. Algonquin Township Supervisor Dianne Klemm carried on the tradition, occasionally offering to take the group on the township bus to other conservation areas to walk.
They range in age from 62 to 89-year-old Ben Welisek of Fox River Grove. He and his wife, Betty, 85, used to walk, but mostly just come for the coffee these days.
"The only part of walking I like is the talking," Betty Welisek said.
For the members, S.W.A.T. is tradition. They've hosted their own High Tea parties, posing in hats – even a couple of the group's four male members put them on. There are photographs to prove it.
They've gotten together for picnics every year at member Lydia Hartsig's Algonquin home.
And they've seen each other through hip replacements, mono, arthritis and all sorts of ailments.
Though, "When we get to the table, there's no talking of illness," said Jenkinson, who refers to the group as "non-seniors."
It's all about "attitude," she said.
"You never groan when you get out of a chair," she said. "I'm just fortunate. How can I complain if I know other people are worse off than I am?"
The group might split off during the walks, but the smaller fragments make sure they stay together so no one walks alone. They keep an eye on one another, listen.
"If somebody's out of breath, you go back. You don't make a big deal of it," Jenkinson said. "You stay together."
Although Ron Carlson of Algonquin, who walks with his wife, Lynne, is a regular, the other men come "when they have nothing else to do," the women joked. When they're there, talking about men is off limits, they say.
"The guys walk to the end of the pier and sometimes don't come back," Jenkinson said with a laugh.
And Ron Carlson comes "for the donuts," his wife Lynne added.
She, too, has walked with the group since nearly the beginning. She also walks on her own daily.
"It has to be a habit," she said. "I get out of bed, and I don't drink my coffee until I walked."
All friends, they walk simply with whomever they happen to strike up a conversation with that morning.
The group has encountered snakes, both dead and alive, jumping fish, even a turtle that a member took home and named "Oliver."
"Did you hear the birds this morning?" Susan Cole of Cary asked as she caught up to a couple walkers. "I felt like I was sleeping in a bird cage."
Cole joined the group about five years ago when she stumbled upon the group while walking on her own in the Hollows.
"Don't walk alone," they told her. "Come join our group."
"I've been with them ever since," she said. "We're kind of a motley crew."
Some have come and gone. They're the "drop-outs," as the group calls them. One woman came and told them that they didn't walk, they hiked. She never came back.
"She was just too delicate," Jenkinson said.
A couple members have died through the years but are remembered in photographs displayed in an album the group has put together through the years.
Walking might be the reason Jenkinson has become the group's "dream lady," remaining as healthy and active as ever.
"That sounds nice, but I think it's lifestyle. I'd say having a good husband who understands you," she said of her husband, Ron.
Then she quickly added, "You don't have to understand him."