Organized walks bring friendships, exercise
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By Oscar A. Hernandez
Special to The Advertiser
By Oscar A. Hernandez
What started out as simple walks around her neighborhood evolved into something much larger for Marsha Okada.
Okada, 65, of Hawai'i Kai, is an accomplished volksmarcher, and an active member of the Menehune Marchers (the state's only volksmarching club) since 1987.
Volksmarching is a German term, meaning "people's walk," and it is an organized walking activity.
Okada said she loves the benefits volksmarching provides — taking a stroll with friends, enjoying the sights and sounds of different places, as well as the health benefits.
"I started walking around my neighborhood ... just to get some exercise. I (was) attracted to (volksmarching) because I thought it was a good non-competitive family activity," she said.
Okada, a retired teacher, learned of volksmarching after reading about a planned walking event through Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens. That event was coordinated by Barbara Mateo-Kihano, the founder of the Menehune Marchers.
"When I called (Barbara) to inquire about her first (organized) walk ... she was so excited and enthusiastic about volksmarching that I caught the fever," Okada said. "This walk led me to the next — and the next, and I haven't stopped doing volksmarches since then."
In addition to the sightseeing activities in volksmarching, Okada said she gained "friendships that were formed throughout (her) years of walking with people throughout the 50 states, Canada, Japan and Germany."
The added perk for Okada is that participants can earn certificates, pins and patches after finishing a walk or reaching certain milestones, such as completing 10 or more events and logging 500 kilometers. Okada said she has completed more than 450 volksmarches and logged more than 8,500 kilometers (5,281 miles).
The Menehune Marchers has a chartered membership to the American Volkssport Association, the governing body of volksmarching in the United States.
In turn, the AVA is a member of the International Federation of Popular Sports, where members from many countries plan and coordinate a volksmarching trip to any sanctioned volksmarching destination in the world.
Mateo-Kihano said there are several locations in Hawai'i designated as volksmarching routes, and each starting site is assigned a coordinator. A box with volksmarching information is kept at each designated site, containing walking directions, self-help passport stamps, and maps for visiting AVA or IVV members.
Routes are given thorough consideration, which include points of interest. A planned outing may lead volksmarchers for a walk through historic sites of Honolulu, or a hike on one of the state's scenic nature trails.
Mateo-Kihano said that volksmarching was introduced in Hawai'i by a military member, who learned about it when stationed in Germany. The club in Hawai'i was called The 50th State Wanders.
Nineteen years ago, with the disbanding of the 50th State Wanderers, Mateo-Kihano founded the Menehune Marchers.
Mateo-Kihano, a retired electronics mechanic with Navy Public Works from Kane'ohe, is the volksmarch coordinator for the Nu'uanu YMCA starting site.
She has been active in volksmarching for more than 20 years. She was introduced to the activity by her youngest sister, Lei.
"The best way to learn about a country is to walk," Mateo-Kihano said. "You experience the environment, the friendly club members who come to walk with you since they are so happy to share their part of the USA with others, and the friendships that are formed."
To celebrate the Menehune Marchers' 19th year, Mateo-Kihano has coordinated a walk at the 400-acre Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens set for July 23.
"It is the site of our very first event," she said.