My First Walk

How I Became a Walker

Volksmarch Medal - Forest Grove 1984
Volksmarch Medal - Forest Grove 1984. Wendy Bumgardner ©

It was September, 1984. I was not quite 25 and newly engaged to Rich Bumgardner. I was looking through my hometown newspaper when I spied an announcement for the very first volksmarch walk in Oregon, to be held in my own hometown of Forest Grove. How convenient!


Rich enjoyed walking volkssport walking events, also called volksmarches or volkswalks, when he was stationed in Germany in the 1970's.
These are non-competitive walking events you do at a strolling pace, 6 miles or 10 kilometers long. A club selects a nice place to walk, marks the trail, and invites the public to come walk it. Rich had his 30 volksmarch medals framed on the wall, and he showed me slides of the fun he and his friends had on those walks. Rich said I had to walk the Forest Grove volksmarch. But I was afraid to do it -- a volksmarch is 6 miles long, 10 kilometers, and I had never walked that far before.
Walking a Volksmarch

My Left Foot

Back in 1984, I still considered myself handicapped. I had dropped foot from nerve damage following a knee operation when I was 14, and it took me 10 years to be able to walk without an obvious limp. The ankle remained weak and prone to sprains, and running was impossible. I had legitimate concerns about being able to walk a full 10K. I agreed to walk on the condition that when my foot gave out, Rich would finish the walk and come back and pick me up with the car.

Start Walking

We arrived at the walk at the stroke of 8 a.m., wanting to ensure we got the medal award.
There was no line-up at the start trailer. We registered, paid our $4 each and got start cards #3 and #4. We followed the trail markings through my familiar territory, out past the houses and farms of my relatives. I got to give Rich a little tour of my stomping grounds, although I had mostly driven around them and never actually walked on any of these roads.


As we started up Purdin Road we came to the checkpoint -- a little table with a jug of water and some hard candies.
A writer was there doing an article on the walk for Sunset magazine. We gave a couple of comments. We headed up David Hill, turning onto Thatcher Road at the house of my favorite cousins. By four miles I was amazed that I was still walking. I was enjoying seeing these familiar backroads at a walking pace. Our next checkpoint as we arrived back in town was at the house of a walker who had a roomful of volkssport awards from Germany. Rich enjoyed looking at those, and had many tales to share of the walks he did in Germany.

An Award!

When we finished, I received my first sports award of my life, a volksmarch medal showing a lion, with a Bavarian hat and walking stick, drinking a beer. I bought my first IVV Record Book to record the event and begin to earn IVV Achievement Awards, although I didn't know how often I'd have the opportunity to do them since the sport was just starting in the Pacific Northwest.

And So It Begins

The next weekend, Rich was busy but I took off with my roommate Susan and headed up to the Olympic Peninsula to do a walk at Quilcene.
Rich and I went to every walk we could, many in Washington, and my first event book filled up in a few months. I loved the walks. Walking 10 kilometers was plenty, though. Once in awhile Rich and I did two walks in a day, separated by a meal and some rest.

A Walking Life

By the end of the 1980's, I became vice-president of a local walking club, then soon after, the state organization. In 1991 I was elected national secretary of the American Volkssport Association. In 1995, I created their website and in 1996 I became the Walking Guide at Since becoming the Walking Guide, I have been certified as a marathon coach, walked seven marathons, and learned to racewalk. I have been trailmaster for well over 100 different walking events and participated in more than 1,000 walking events.

See what one little walk can do?
More: 10 Things I Learned in 30 Years of Walking

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