ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — If you were to station yourself down at Big Ole Park in Alexandria about 7:30 every morning — except Sundays — you would see what looks like a bunch of old guys trying to get some exercise by going for a little walk.
And you would be mostly right.
They walk at least an hour, if not more, and usually end up walking more than 3 miles each time. They like to get in the miles, despite that a couple of them use walking sticks for assistance and one even carries his oxygen with him.
Exercise is one of the key reasons they walk, but it is also about the camaraderie and the harmless heckling, joking and interesting conversations. Or perhaps it’s about having time away from their better halves, although none of them would deny or confirm that reason.
The group of mostly retirees from the Alexandria lakes area have happily dubbed themselves “The Fat Boys Walking Club.”
The club has nine members, ranging in age from 68 to 82, although you will most likely never see all nine walking at the same time. There might be two and there might be seven, but at least one member will always show up six days a week.
So, just how did this group get started walking?
Tom Obert, 73, is the Cub Reporter (Interestingly, none of them go by their real names. Each of them has been given a nickname.). He said his mom lived next to Bob Annen (Weakie, because he once said his golf swing was weak), age 82, and that they met back in 2001. At first, it was just the two of them walking. They would meet at Big Ole and walk for two or so hours at a time.
Back in 2005, before the full Fat Boys Walking Club, Obert and Annen were inspired by a story about a woman who walked Minneapolis. They decided to walk all the streets within the city limits of Alexandria.
During that walk, they found out that Alexandria, at that time, had 94 miles of streets. They started their quest April 13, 2005, and finished on May 5, 2005, by walking for an hour and a half to three hours each day. This equaled about 5 to 10 miles each day. They walked a total of 19 days with a day or two off for what Obert said was “good behavior.”
In all, they guesstimated that they actually walked more than 130 miles as by necessity, they often had to cover the same street more than once to get to the next unwalked street or for return trips on dead end streets.
As time went on and the two of them continued their walking at the local YMCA, other guys started joining in on their walks. Many times, they would walk at least 30 laps and some of them, Annen said, would work out on the machines.
One of the guys started laughing and said they most often would just lean on the machines and keep up the chit-chat. And then eventually, they would leave so they could go have coffee.
In addition to Obert and Annen, the club members include Mike Bump, 81, called The Bumpster; Harvey Kranzler, 72, The Harvster; Roger Johnson, 71, Coach, because well, he was a coach; Ken Howell, 75, who is on the tall side, is The Crane; Tom Mulder, 70, who sings, goes by The Boy Tenor; Rich Beltz, 68, goes by Sleepy Eye and Paul Fieldhammer, 77, is known as Rock.
Due to COVID-19 and the closing of the YMCA earlier this year, the group no longer walks there. Even though the facility is reopened, the guys have continued their daily walks outside on the Central Lakes Trail. Obert quipped that, since they started, Annen doesn’t really fit the “fat boy” title anymore as all the walking he’s done paid off and he’s lost 60 pounds.
As for when the weather gets too cold, the guys said they are leaning toward being mall walkers.
For now, they are enjoying their time on the trail — talking, laughing and ultimately, trying to stay healthy.