Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, New York — There were three of us at the starting point on Denniston Road in Gardiner: myself, my father, Cullen O’Brien and The Oracle’s Distribution Manager, Mario Prainito, ‘16. We started our 22-mile walk in the middle of cow country at 8:15 a.m on Sunday, April 2. By 4:25 p.m., we finally reached Cynthia, my 2006 Jeep Commander parked at the intersection of Rockwell Lane and Route 32 in Kingston.
This wasn’t a 22-mile walk just for the fun of it. The walk was held in conjunction with my fundraising efforts for the American Heart Association, which hosted its Ulster Heart Walk in the campus’ Multipurpose Room on the same day. In total, I raised $870 and logged 47,000 steps for the American Heart Association. Broken down, that’s about 54 steps for every dollar I raised. This wasn’t some well-conceived plan but rather a spur-of-the-moment decision that I thought would be a novel way to benefit a worthy cause.
For some background, I have dealt with a heart condition, supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), since I was 7-years-old. While most people have one electrical charger on their heart, I have two, which has caused my heart to race due to caffeine, physical activity or for no reason at all. For even more background, in 2005, my grandfather had triple bypass surgery and in 2006, my father had a cardio catheterization to address irregular heart beats. Heart conditions: like grandfather, like father, like son.
Thanks to medication and aging, over the course of a decade my condition was under control and actually getting better. But in 2013, after playing pickup basketball in gym class during my senior year of high school, I went into atrial fibrillation, ultimately hitting 232 beats per minute. To restore my resting pulse, I was given an electrical cardioversion, where the doctors yell “Clear!” and zap you. Not fun.
From there I had two ablations, the first one which was unsuccessful and the second, which was successfully conducted two days before Christmas. Since then, I’ve had no major episodes, which I am enormously grateful for, especially to Dr. Guillermo Sosa-Suarez of the Albany Associates in Cardiology. Thanks to my good fortune, I embarked on a walk to give to an organization helping people with far more serious heart conditions across the country.
For the first half of the walk, I was joined by fourth-years Cassandra Goldman (biology), Theresa Orr (music therapy) and Max Garnot (history) as well as third-years Kate McCutchen (international relations), Mary Ryan (marketing), and Caity Fischer (communication disorders).
We passed by farms and orchards, a few old ladies, a few scratchy dogs and the lingering scent of manure. We walked in waves, dining on clementines and Clif bars, all while averaging a brisk half-mile every 10 minutes. By the time we reached Water Street Market at 11 a.m., our bodies were sore but ready for the next 13 miles, or so we thought.
What we were not ready for was how difficult the second half would be. By the time we crossed the magnificent Rosendale Trestle, our pace began to slow. Our interest in the lengthy history of the rail trail, which opened as a railroad in 1866, began to wane and the last two hours featured little talking and a lot of heavy breathing. Plenty of people told me that I underestimated how much walking would go into 22 miles, but I really think I underestimated how bored you can get looking at trees for eight hours.
Toward the end, once we were deep into Ulster, we began to doubt if we would ever reach the Kingston. You can only pass through so many muddy trails with your legs pulsating from pain before you forget what the civilized world looks like. On top of that, the trail markers were clearly mismarked, which made it difficult to accurately pinpoint where we were on the map that I brought along. Honestly, my father asking “Are we there yet?” every so often during the last hour propelled us along to the finish.
For all of the exhaustion, muscle strains and dehydration, there was the pride of knowing that we walked the whole damn thing and that we would never have to do it again. Plus we drank beer at Cuddy’s after we cleaned up, so it all worked out.
On a serious note, for those interested, you can donate to the American Heart Association at: donatenow.heart.org.