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Royce Pollard: The Mayor Who Walks His Talk
Popular five-term mayor of Vancouver, Washington is a living example
of the benefits to be gained with a regular walking routine.

By Florence Wager

“Hi, I’m Royce Pollard, the mayor of America’s Vancouver.”

The smiling, 6-foot-1-inch, 215-pound mayor strides with exuding energy and good health. One would never suspect he underwent five-way bypass surgery just a year ago, and that he daily meets the challenges posed by having Type 2 diabetes. A walking stick and bicycle both have prominent positions in his office along with memorabilia of his years as Vancouver’s mayor and city council-member.

“I introduced the Mayor’s Bike Ride in 1999,” says Pollard. “I would have preferred for it to be the Mayor’s Walk, but I had diabetic feet and couldn’t walk. When I enlisted in the Army in 1961, I ran and I walked. I was in the infantry, so you bet I walked. I was always in good shape.”

Like many Armed Forces’ retirees, Pollard experienced a dramatic change in lifestyle after leaving the Army. As a city council member, he attended meetings and events, one after another, and most of them had plenty of food to be enjoyed. He says he never felt he had the time to walk or fit a game of racquetball into his busy schedule. With lack of exercise and added weight, Pollard was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. His sons bought him a bike. Looking back he says, “It must have weighed 7,000 pounds, but I loved it. I was able to lose about 25 pounds and get the diabetes under control.”

Then, at 63, 10 years after his diabetes was diagnosed, Pollard started to experience a burning sensation in his chest when he rode his bike from City Hall to the Barracks. An angiogram showed blockages. After surgery to repair these at St. Vincent’s in Portland, his doctor told him he was lucky to have received the diagnosis of diabetes when he did, because the bicycling had strengthened his heart and helped him lose weight. “I’ve given you 30 more years if you live right,” his doctor told him.

After having prescription inserts fitted in his shoes to compensate for the loss of the fat pads in his feet due to the diabetes, Mayor Pollard is back to walking and says, 90% back on my feet again.”

He looks forward to the 8th Annual International Discovery Walk Festival in Vancouver this spring when he will be in the review stands for the International Children’s Parade on the morning of Friday, April 23. He will then kick off the three-day festival that afternoon by leading the Mayor’s Walk though downtown, Officers Row, and the waterfront. On Saturday he will also participate in the bike ride and swim to qualify for the special “Try-Athalon” Award, a new feature of this year’s event. Mayor Pollard supports, advises, and encourages the dynamic group of volunteers who organize the festival. The Discovery Walk is the only walking event in the U.S. sanctioned by the International Marching League and American Volkssport Association.

For Pollard, of course, walking isn’t just a once-a-year thing. He makes it a daily habit. He doesn’t believe that starting a walking routine means you have to make dramatic changes in your life. There is no need, for example, to schedule an hour-long trek into a jam-packed day. He makes it a policy to walk to all downtown meetings whereas before he would routinely just hop in his car.

How does he recommend getting started? Just strike out from home or office in any direction, walk 15 minutes and then return. Somehow pledging increments of 15 minutes feels easy to do. In a half-hour of walking, one can cover about a mile (just an estimate since one’s stride and pace will determine the exact distance). Roughly speaking, a city block will equal 100 steps. Ten blocks will net one-half mile (1,000 steps). Double that and you will have achieved 2,000 steps, an entire mile. And, according to the national program called “America on the Move,” if people walked another 2,000 steps (one mile) every day, they’d stop gaining weight. They might not lose much, but at least they’d stop putting on pounds.

Pollard also suggests using stairs instead of elevators (as he does), parking at the bank or pharmacy and walking in instead of using the drive-thru, and taking the shopping cart back to the store from your car. If there is a route you cover frequently that you can walk, make one trip in the car and track the miles on the odometer. That will eliminate the guesswork in figuring out how far you walk each trip.

There are many public health experts who say that many people don’t walk because the infrastructure just isn’t there. Neighborhoods are not built for pedestrians. Metro regions have been struggling with the issue of suburban sprawl for decades. Already recognized as one of the country’s most “walkable” cities, Vancouver is not finished building paths and bikeways, “Not by any means,” believes Pollard. He feels that transportation planners have become much more attuned to the need and are doing a better job. This is a vast improvement from the days when designers thought solely of moving automobiles more efficiently, and cities were developed on the assumption that every trip would be made by car.

To encourage this new walking trend, Mayor Pollard didn’t hesitate to join the Police, Transportation, and Parks department in partnership with the Vancouver and Evergreen school districts in observing”Walk Your Kids to School Safely Days.”He enjoyed the morning walk to the newly opened Washington Elementary School in the Rosemere neighborhood. He points out that we are spending precious dollars to build safe unloading zones so parents can drive their children to school. As a result, kids are often missing out on the important development of young bodies that walking provides.

Pollard ties public recreation and parks to maintaining the good health of the community. Parks serve as part of a preventative approach to health care for all ages. Parks will also be important to a program now being developed by Community Choices 2010 (CC2010), a non-profit affiliate of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. The group works to improve the health and well-being of Clark County through collaboration among organizations. (See Federal Grant.) Any program geared to weight control will highlight walking. As Pollard puts it, “Walking is free, good fun, and healthy!”

Mayor Pollard is not likely to rest on his laurels anytime soon, for in November he was re-elected to a fifth term. He will continue to use his experience to encourage city staff, citizens, and other policymakers to maintain America’s Vancouver as a “most walkable” city and give balance to America’s love for the automobile.

He still has many dreams for Vancouver. “You know,” he muses, “we need more paths, trails, sidewalks, bike lanes and a method to fund them all. We need walking clubs and guides to take walkers through the landmarks of our rich cultural history. And with the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial coming up, we need to commemorate this amazing trek across our great nation by planning, funding, and building a trail along the entire route in the

next few years, both as a lasting legacy to this nation-building event and to get ready for a lot of walkers.”
He quotes Dr. Julian Whitaker of the Whitaker Wellness Institute: “If we could bottle the benefits of physical exercise, we would have one of the most powerful anti-aging remedies known to man.”

“Walking can help everyone,” Pollard concludes. “It is especially beneficial to older people who will feel better and enjoy life more, even those who think they’re too old or too out of shape. Aging is inevitable. I know you can’t turn back the clock, but you can sure wind it up again.”


Right Lib



Walk About Magazine, is a northwest walking and hiking publication in Portland, Oregon.


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