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Cross Country Walker Makes Stop in Springfield

Michele Skalicky
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KSMU

Lao Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Paul Ferraro, a 59-year-old from New Jersey, has gone a thousand miles and more since he started a cross-country walking trip on April 1st.   KSMU's Michele Skalicky has more.

Ferraro began his trek, to raise money for the Navy SEAL Foundation, near a Navy SEAL base in Virginia Beach, Virginia and hopes to end the trip sometime in late August near another base in San Diego.  He’s following Route 60 all the way to Phoenix where he’ll switch to roads that run along Route 8.

Why did he decide to take on such a huge challenge?

"I just thought it was time to give back to the people that do things that we're not capable or willing to do, and I thought this would be a great way to raise awareness and money for the families of fallen Navy SEALS," he said.

Ferraro’s father was a career military man and spoke highly of the Navy SEALS, he said. And he found out that 97 percent of money raised for the Foundation goes to families.

The walk hasn’t been easy.  Much of Route 60 has no shoulders.

"I walk against traffic.  I have flashing lights, a vest, a flag.  I have as much as I can.  You just have to gauge the traffic, and you get a feel--there's a rhythm to it," he said.

He has to move off the highway altogether when semis are coming in both directions, which he said is terrible for the tires on the supply cart that he pushes.  He’s become an advocate and speaker against texting while driving since he knows that a single distracted driver could cost him his life.  He’s endured rain and intense heat and humidity as he’s made his way to Springfield, where he is now. 

"The last two weeks were really tough.  I mean, I was doing consistently 30 miles a day until I hit that heat, and I had to slow down because I had passed out a number of times from the heat," he said.

At one point he passed out, fell backwards, and his cart fell on top of him.  A passing motorist stopped to help. When he came to he didn’t know where he was.  He’s learned since then that he needs to drink as much water as he can.  In fact, when he wakes up in the night he drinks.

Illness forced Ferraro to suspend his trip for a couple of weeks while he recovered at home.  He has a handler who calls ahead and arranges places for him to stay at night—sometimes it’s firehouses, other times hotels or a yard where he sets up his tent.  Last night he stayed at a livestock sale barn in Seymour.  A few other people make phone calls for him and pray for him, including his wife of 40 years.  But he’s alone on the road.

Credit Harold Dispatch
Ferraro with Thule

His cart (a two-person stroller) contains everything he needs to be self-sufficient and can weigh up to 90 pounds at times.  The loneliness on the road has caused Ferraro to think of the cart, which he calls Thule after the company that donated it to him, as a friend.

"I talk to the cart kind of like Wilson in Castaway when he talked to the ball--Tom Hanks.  There are days when I go, 'Thule,  if this car keeps coming, you're going before me, you know, I'm  not getting hit.'  I had to leave it for two weeks.  I left it at a firehouse to fly home because my health got so bad, and I remember leaving looking at it and thinking to myself, 'isn't this silly?  I'm gonna miss this cart,' you know, and I actually said, 'Thule, I'll see you in two weeks.  You can count on it.'  You know, the cart just looks at you.  It's a cart, but that's all you have all day long is that cart and you," he said.

The company that donated the cart also sends Ferraro replacement parts, like wheels, when they wear out.

He carries a navigational tool with him that allows his loved ones to track where he is at all times and also gives him the ability to send an emergency signal if anything goes wrong.  He can also use it to communicate even when his phone isn’t working. 

He says the challenges he faces are more mental than physical.

"There are days when I wish I didn't start this.  You know, there are days, like man, what was I thinking?  How am I gonna do this for another 50, 60 days? he said.

Motivation is a big factor in the effort to keep going.  He takes it one day at a time.  And, besides knowing that he’s raising awareness and money for an organization he strongly believes in, he has other things to keep him motivated.  He told his wife to book a trip to Aruba for the end of September, so he knows he has to be finished by then.  And there are experiences along the way that lift his spirits and make him realize that what he’s doing is worth the struggles.

"One day I was walking and someone had stopped to do a quick interview with a radio station out of a pickup truck, and another truck comes by and says, 'hey, there are 400 kids waiting in front of an elementary school for you.'  And I had no idea, and as I turned, you know, I broke the interview off, then as I turned the corner kids were in front of a fence all the way down the school waving flags.  It just touched me that the principal realized that there was educational value in me walking across the country," he said.

He was invited to speak to the entire school at an assembly.  He carries a flag on his cart that was given to him by the school, and students and their families have kept in touch with him to see how he’s doing.

Ferraro will speak to people along the way who ask him to—he had a career as a motivational speaker before he retired, so it comes naturally to him.  He’s spoken at VFW posts, American Legions, veterans’ hospitals, schools and churches.  His goal, he said, is to raise awareness about Navy SEALS and the sacrifices they make for their country.

"and the fact that we need to take care of their families when we lose blood and treasure, and a lot of people don't realize that, you know, the commitment they make and how dangerous it is and how much they're gone," he said.

Credit Michele Skalicky / KSMU
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KSMU
Worn Out Tread on Ferraro's Shoe

Ferraro

goes through a $120 pair of shoes each month.  The tread on shoes he bought June 1st is already worn out. 

The experience, he said, has taught him that he’s stronger than he thought he was.  And he’s learned that everyone has a story.  When he’s able to stop at a restaurant, he’ll sit at a bar and get to know people.  And he’s discovered that the people that have the least amount of money are the most generous.  He said he was blown away by the generosity of people in West Virginia who he says “literally give you everything that they have.”

You can donate to Ferraro’s cause and learn more about his journey here.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.