If you’ve ever travelled further down the valley, I know you’ve seen him. A welcoming yet mysterious ambassador, there he so often is – trekking along the side of the highway between New Minas and Coldbrook, walking sticks in hand, and a huge smile plastered across his face.
Every time we pass him, my husband and I always wonder aloud a string of questions. Who is this guy? Why does he walk so much? Why does he walk along this dangerous highway of all places? And what makes him so happy?
I was pleasantly surprised to find a facebook group of more of than 600 people strong dedicated to this “Ski Pole Walking Man,” and received assistance from one of the group’s members in finding him for an interview. His name is Anthoney Wheeler, and he lives in New Minas. He’s a quite a character, and very positive with his own cute and corny brand of humour. When people approach him in the grocery store, asking if he’s the famous highway walker he always answers that they “must have him confused with his wife’s husband”. By his own description, he just celebrated the 27th anniversary of his 39th birthday. Anthoney is quick to add that he couldn’t do at 39 what he does now – which is to walk from Coldbrook to New Minas every day.
Indeed, Anthoney is quite an inspiration to those of us who have seen him walking. And it was he who was inspired to get healthier when both his mother and father died of cardiac arrest in1994. Anthoney didn’t get started right away with walking. Rather, his first step was to get his stomach stapled as he weighed 329 pounds and knew that was putting his health in serious jeopardy. His doctor recommended that he exercise for 30 minutes a day. “I found out that walking releases natural endorphins and suppresses appetite,” says Anthoney. He calls it his awakening, and has been walking ever since, only missing a handful of days due to health or weather.
Anthoney’s wife drops him off at Frenchy’s every day. They do a little shopping, he picks up his free coffee from TAN (which he gets in exchange for wearing a shirt that declares that he is fuelled by their coffee), and he sets off walking to meet her back home. Anthoney jokes that he chooses to walk along the highway because, ”It’s safer than using a crosswalk in New Minas.” (Though – joking aside – he does want there to be harsher fines for people who ignore cross-walkers.) After hearing more about his experiences though, it becomes clear that the positive energy Anthoney receives from all the people he sees is why he might walk along the busiest road he can find. “People are really looking out for you. The smiles and waves keep me going,” he says.
When I ask Anthoney if his family worries about his safety as he walks along the busy highway, he answers, “Yes, but I just tell them that [this is] grandpa taking his medicine, that it doesn’t matter if I get to my house in New Minas by the end of my walk or to my heavenly home.” Anthoney is a Christian, and says this is part of what keeps him smiling on his walk. Yes, for those of you who have wondered what keeps him smiling so brightly, Anthoney declares that it’s what he’s listening to on his mp3 player. He listens to an audio version of the Old and New Testaments of The Bible, and gospel music, declaring “you are what you listen to.”
Anthoney loves to help cheer on others who are hoping to get healthier. He recommends adding Nordic walking sticks when you walk to help burn more calories, increase strength, and for more stability and security. “Start where you are and add a little to it each day. Don’t worry about using them the wrong way.” Before he started walking he used to drive just one block just to go get groceries, and “was killing [him]self with a fork.” Now, for 15 years, he’s addicted to the natural high that he gets from the exercise and not even the worst weather can stop him. Says Anthoney, “30 below is when that thermos of coffee really comes in handy!”