Room to walk: Bill Cassidy, 88, covers the miles indoors and out

By Bruce McLellan | Living 50 Plus

Bill Cassidy exited his kitchen, walked briskly past the dining room table and went into the living room. He then turned left into the foyer, moved into the hall and picked up his pace as he walked past a grandfather clock.

He arrived back at his starting point to complete a loop of 75 feet. Cassidy, 88, knew the distance he covered because he once measured it.

“I walked heel to toe all the way around,” he explained. “The shoes I had were exactly 12 inches long. I walked 75 steps. I did the same thing again to check it.”

When bad weather prevents him from walking outside, Cassidy uses his indoor course. He does his 75-foot loop 70½ times, which is 5,287 feet — seven feet more than a mile.

Once he walks a mile, Cassidy marks an X for that date on his calendar. He tries to have four X’s a day. He also has several 1-mile outdoor routes from his home in the Albany District. One route goes to Sixth Avenue Southeast and back and another makes a loop around the eastern end of Delano Park. If he walks an outdoor mile, he marks a circle inside the X as he adds it to his calendar.

In 2022, he recorded 1,192 miles in his calendar, and he had walked more than 250 miles this year through late March.

“He just feels better,” Samanthia Cassidy said of her husband’s walks. “It just helps push him to feel better and have something to do. He gets to talk to the neighbors and other people in the park.”

Bill noted another benefit.

“I haven’t gained a lot of weight,” he said, standing 6 feet tall and a slender 160 pounds.

Stephanie King, wellness coordinator with the North Central Alabama Regional Council of Governments (NARCOG), said exercising like Cassidy does is good for older adults.

“When I teach my classes, the main goal is to keep moving,” King said. “The more you move, the better you’ll feel. I think not only from a physical standpoint, exercise also helps you mentally.”

Another benefit of exercise is joint health, she said.

“If you’re walking like that, you’re really … keeping your joints and muscles moving so you’re not stiff. (It) definitely helps you not have the arthritis that a lot of people have when they don’t move a lot.”

Cassidy’s exercise has helped him retain vitality despite previous surgeries and experiencing memory loss. He had two bypasses during open heart surgery in 2010. He had bladder cancer surgery five times from 1991-2016, including the removal of a kidney and his ureter.

“He just keeps going,” Samanthia said. “He doesn’t quit.”

Perseverance and hard work always have been part of his life. His mother died when he was 6 and he lived with his grandmother before eventually being able to rejoin his father and step-mother.

Cassidy spent his career working as a printing company photo engraver, with his last stop in Corinth, Mississippi, with W.F. Hall during the time National Geographic was printed there. He had expertise that brought people from around the world to train under him. He also began walking at that time to help reduce stress.

Later as Samanthia pursued her career as a gospel songwriter/singer and author of the book “Dancing in the Wilderness,” he became bored with retirement and started driving delivery vans for Advance Auto Parts in the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, area. He did that for 11 years.

The couple, who have been married 46 years, moved from Pigeon Forge to Decatur six years ago. Samanthia, 74, had grown up in the Lawrence County community of Rocky Hill between Courtland and Town Creek, and she wanted to move back to this area. She called a real estate agent about Decatur.

“I said, I want to live in the Historic District.”

Once they moved to Decatur, Bill knew he needed to keep active.

“When I got here, I called about getting a job,” Cassidy said. “They said, ‘How old are you?’ I said 82. He hung up on me.”

That led him to get more serious about walking as an alternative way to stay active. He can often be seen at Delano Park with his erect stride and wearing a brown hat with a feather in its band.

King said the walking may benefit him just as an exercise routine can help anyone dealing with memory loss.

“That’s probably a goal they have every day,” she said. “It’s something they remember they want to do.”

She said she can see the benefits of staying active in the senior adults she works with at NARCOG.

“I do what we call the Arthritis Foundation exercise program with seniors and I also do another program called ‘Bingocize,’ which is we play bingo but we also do some exercises. You can tell the difference in the ones who have been moving and keeping moving and active as opposed to the other ones. To me, the ones that are moving more and active, they just seem a lot more happy than the other ones.”

She said older adults can benefit from even easy exercises.

“The classes that I do, it’s catered to people 60 and older We usually do it twice a week for an hour, but I encourage them to like, ’Hey, while you’re sitting at home watching TV, you can always stretch and do the simple exercises we do.’

“So it’s good to do it every day, something, whether it’s a full-blown walk or even you just sitting in your chair stretching your arms, stretching your legs, doing simple things like arm circles or … wiggling your fingers, just bending your fingers, spreading them out.”

Staying lively can put you in position to enjoy new experiences, as Cassidy found out recently.

“My grandson called me about three months ago and said, ‘Grandpa, you ever thought of changing your name to great-grandpa?’”

Ryan Stukenberg, a dentist in Breeze, Ill., and one of Cassidy’s two grandchildren, became the father of Kade — the first great-grandchild — on Feb. 22.

The temperature reached the 80s in Decatur that day and Cassidy walked 4 miles, all outdoors.