Guy Gentile, 77, walks along a path in his Florida neighborhood.
(Photo: Sarah Coward, The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press)
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Guy Gentile tied his sneakers Friday morning, nearly the anniversary of his 18-year streak of walking 6,575 straight days.
He's trudged through hurricane gusts, rain, snow, flu and fever. He's strode along sketchy streets, hotel parking lots, cruise ship rooftops, Rome and Alaska. He's been cold, hot, and drenched but surprisingly never chased by a dog. He's never once resented his commitment to walking 2 miles a day, even when he had to hobble with a cane due to a torn meniscus.
The 77-year-old has clocked, by his count, 13,150 miles, which equates to a trek more than halfway around the world.
This Friday, his destination was more achievable: the path around his gated community in Estero, where he spends winters with his wife of nearly 57 years, Nancy. She's glad he walks daily, but doesn't share his passion for ambling.
What does she do for exercise? "I get out of bed," she deadpanned.
Gentile put on his sunglasses and glanced at the time, 9:08 a.m.
He prefers to walk in the mornings when the world is fresh and quiet, or at least less hot when it comes to Florida.
"Let's go!" announced Gentile, the type of guy who sees sun through clouds.
He traces the origins of this routine to a brisk winter day on Jan. 11, 1996, when he emerged from his home in small-town Ohio to grab his newspaper. Before dawn, the stars twinkled in the dark sky. Snow blanketed his neighborhood. Cool air filled his lungs. What a day for a walk, he thought.
It had been about eight years since he had done much of any exercise. He had given up racquetball because he felt his game was slacking. He bundled up and headed outside to walk and felt better when it was over. The next morning, he repeated the walk and wondered, "How often should I do this?" Every day, he concluded. No excuses.
He set the bar at 2 miles, low enough he couldn't find a reason not to do it.
"Life is about a series of habits, and you can have bad habits that are hard to break and you could also have good habits that are hard to break. If you fill your life with good habits, you should lead a better life," said Gentile, a mostly retired Realtor.
His sneakers pounded the path this humid morning as he sped across the bridge, passed the bubbling lake fountains and bid good morning to his neighbors. He doesn't bring music. It's a time for his thoughts to drift to his family, what they'll do today, the day after, the next month.
Gentile has surpassed his original goals, which were aligned with his fervor for the game of baseball. An early aim was to match his number of strolls to Lou Gehrig's 2,130 consecutive games. Then, he shot for Cal Ripken Jr.'s 2,632 record. Gentile vaulted past the 4,000 mark and now he's shooting for 10,000, which would put him around 87 years old. If he goes before then, he's instructed his older daughter to place a sign in his casket: "I'd rather be walking today."
But his true Mount Everest is to walk his way to 100 years old. He wants to make it to his oldest grandson's 50th birthday, May 8, 2037.
He dreams of appearing on "The Tonight Show" and encouraging other folks on the back end of life to stick to a fitness routine.
"You don't have to just sit there. You can do something."
More than anything, he walks for his health, and his progress so far is so good. He takes no medications apart from his own prescription of vitamins and a glass of red wine a day.
On Friday, the eve of his 18-year anniversary, he rounded the bend in sight of his home. He had barely broken a sweat.
Gentile believes longevity is also a lot of luck and the guy above in charge. But while Gentile has a say, he'll put one foot in front of the other until he cannot.
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