A few days ago my church lost a good friend to an illness. Laurel Clark was in his late 80’s but a regular attender at church who always came with his wife, Laura. He was a dedicated Christian and an avid walker. Year-round he would trek the streets and sidewalks around our town. I wrote this story about Laurel Clark in 2007 as part of a Senior Living section for our local newspaper. We miss him, but I like the way our pastor put it, “Laurel is now walking on streets of gold.”
Unfortunately, I don’t a photo of Laurel.
Laurel Clark, 84, is a man on a mission. He allows little to stop him from his daily regimen of exercise of walking and anaerobic exercises. Laurel Clark and his wife, Laura, go to Bluffton-Harrison Elementary School where they walk the halls each day, along with several other adults and children. The school allows walkers to walk in their halls each week night from 4:00 – 8:00 pm. The Clarks take advantage of this warm environment to walk about one mile. Laura Clark is 87 years old.
Although he is grateful for the use of the school, Laurel Clark prefers to walk outside and has done so much of this winter’s colder months. Only when temperatures dip into the 40s does he head inside.
When the weather is warmer, Laurel Clark walks five miles daily outside. Beginning at his home, he treks from his home on South Wayne Street to Main Street, then north toward the river. From there he turns on to the River Greenway and goes as far as the covered bridge. He then turns around, heads back to Wayne Street and arrives home. He complete all five miles in one hour and 15 minutes.
A case of arthritis in his leg has slowed Clark’s exercise regimen somewhat over the winter. Although he has received shots to help the pain and swelling in his knee and received advice from is doctor to slow down, Laurel refuses to quit. “I’m going to keep walking as long as this leg will allow it,” he says.
Walking isn’t the only means Clark uses to stay in shape. When he rises each morning, he performs 60 back bends in which he stands and lean back as far as he can. This is for flexibility, he says. He also does 30 sit ups daily. “I’ve been doing them for 6 years,” he says. “The doc recommended I do them because they could keep me loose,”
Laurel Clark started walking in 1977 when he retired as a truck driver. Due to a muscular deficiency condition with his left hand (his left hand won’t reach his mouth), Laurel could not serve overseas during the war. Instead, he began driving Army trucks during the Second World War.
He continued to do so in the years following. In 1960, when the Clarks lived in Wyandotte south of Detroit, Laurel Clark hauled Caddys from Detroit all over the country. Laura only saw him on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Laurel Clark admits he got little exercise during that time. “My doc at the time said I should start walking regularly after sitting in the truck all those years,” he says. “He put his finger near my face and said, ‘Now you’re going to start walking. And I don’t mean around the block.’”
Laurel Clark recalls seeing this same doctor years later. “He asked me if I was walking yet and I told him not much. Last year I only walked 2,578 miles.”
Clark chuckles as he remembers the doctor’s shocked expression. “He asked me to repeat that number and when I did, he looked impressed.”
In 1999 and 2001 he again walked over 2,000 miles annually. Clark walked such a high number of miles because at the time he and Laura lived in Evansville, which had two shopping malls. “They would let me go in to walk at 5:00 a.m. each morning and didn’t care how long I stayed,” he recalls.
Even with his reduced mobility and cooler weather, Laurel Clark figures he strides at least 700 miles a year. He doesn’t carry a pedometer but measures distances with his car.
Laurel Clark started running two years ago until a fall slowed him down. He then broke some ribs, crushed a knee cap and hit his forehead. He was admitted to the hospital for a few days and recovered.
Laurel and Laura Clark, who have been married since 1944, have 3 daughters, 6 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. In 2001 they moved to Bluffton, seeking cooler weather and a Christian church. The Clarks attend First Church of Christ in Bluffton.