Human Limits

Exploring performance and health with Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

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Walk Across Kansas

Today we have guest post from Dr. Sandy Billinger from the University of Kansas.   She has a remarkable story and will be walking across Kansas in May and June of this year to celebrate all sorts of things including the key role that physical activity can play in resiliance.



Why would anyone want to walk across the state of Kansas?  In the western part of the State, the distance between towns is quite great and water is scarce.  Thistles and tumbleweeds roll across the road due to the constant 25-30 mile an hour winds with the occasional gust to 45-50 miles per hour. In any part of the great state of Kansas, the weather can be very unpredictable and can become severe without much warning.  Kansas is right in “tornado alley” and for the most part, Kansas residents find themselves in a tornado watch from April to September.


It really begs the question of why would anyone want to walk across the state of Kansas? The Walk Across Kansas is both a personal and professional endeavor that will take my son and I across the State for the second time.  It was a life-changing event that led me to travel from my hometown of Hays, Kansas, to Kansas City.


Almost 20 years ago (April 1993), I was driving home for lunch when a car ran a stop sign and t-boned my car.  The car hit me with enough force that my car was turned counter clockwise and was facing the opposite direction.  I was 30 weeks pregnant with my son at the time of the accident.  Not only did the impact change the path of my car but it would change my life in ways I had never imagined.   You can read about my personal story, my road to recovery and how I ended up torturing myself obtaining a dual PT/PhD degree at


I was always told by various physicians that I was lucky I was healthy (no comorbid conditions) and exercised before my car accident — that it helped my recovery and probably saved my life.  Exercise has always been part of my lifestyle and hope it will always be.  My son and I have been through a lot since 1993 and we are embarking on this journey together, across the State for the second time, thankful that we both survived almost 20 years ago.  We hope to inspire others to be physically active.


I am a huge fan of physical activity and try to support as many organizations that promote physical activity.  I serve on several American Heart Association committees, the National Physical Activity Plan for healthcare providers and a group of faculty at Rockhurst University and KU Medical Center host an Exercise Is Medicine conference in May.  Each year we obtain a proclamation that May is Exercise Is Medicine month.  May also happens to be Stroke Awareness month which is a research focus in my laboratory at KU Medical Center.  So, why not combine efforts in the month of May.


I have a goal for this walk and that is to educate people on the importance of physical activity (even just walking) in Kansas.  In a previous blog, Dr. Joyner highlighted the awesome and tremendous work of Red Dog’s Dog Days in Lawrence, KS and his free community exercise program that has been in existence for 30 years and serves up to 500 community residents and visitors per day….now that’s IMPACT.   There are others that inspire me to do more and be proactive such as Dr. Michael Joyner, Dr. Steve Blair, Mr. Dick Sarns, inventor and engineer and his wife, Norma, and Mr. Herb Strange, 80-year old weightlifter in Kansas who holds numerous national and world records.


On May 16, 2013 my son, Michael Thomas and I will begin this adventure.  We will walk 570 miles across the state of Kansas following the American DiscoveryTrail(ADT) and our goal is to complete it in 23 days, returning June 7th.  That averages to about a marathon a day of continuous walking.  We will be backpacking, carrying our gear, and trying to plan for our food and water supply.  This is a challenge since the towns are far apart in western Kansas.  Questions like, “How much food do we carry and how many days’ worth?”; “SmartWool socks or liner socks combined with wicking cotton socks”; “What do we do when an unexpected storm hits?  Will there be a ditch nearby to crawl into or do we run to the nearest farmhouse and hope someone will let us in the cellar or basement?” How do we handle loose dogs? Answer: Bear spray?”  “What happens if one of us gets injured and how much Advil can one really take safely?”  I am sure there are more things to consider but these are a few.  I am also traveling with my 19-year old son.  There is certainly a difference of opinion on how to handle these issues, with me being the more reasonable, logical, and having a fully myelinated brain.  He wants to fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants and while I love adventure and used to be that way, not this time.  The reality of the challenges is forcing me to be more of a planner. I’d like to survive and retell the stories.


As we pass through each town/city, we are inviting people to join us and walk.  We are working with our local American Heart Association to get the message out to these towns and engage stroke survivors.  As we get closer to Kansas City, we have groups or “teams” who are going to join us.  Some will walk with us on the Flint Hills trail, while others are walking parts of the last leg, which is 18 miles.  We’ve had remarkable community interest in being active.  In fact someone recently mentioned we may have to close a section of the city or route traffic to allow all of us to walk.  Our Doctor of Physical Therapy students are conducting a fundraiser (we are also raising money for stroke research at KU) and having people walk in teams.  They are also walking portions of the trail with us.  A stroke survivor who recently was in one of our studies while he was in the hospital has been “extra committed to rehab” as he wants to walk a short distance with us as we cross the finish line.  I was so impressed and in awe of his desire to improve his walking ability.  It has been amazing to hear different stories from people and their excitement for our Walk Across Kansas.  Already, I feel I’ve made a difference in Kansas City and am both nervous and excited for this physical and mental challenge.


So, if you find yourself wanting to do something fun or just happen to find yourself wandering along the ADT in Kansas in May or June, we would be more than happy to have you walk with us on our journey.  I am sure that we will have some interesting stories to share that will help the time pass by.   If you are not up for joining us, on the website you will find a link for our Facebook page and you can follow my training and our journey.


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