A Promise Kept
When Don Stevenson wandered through the Geographical Center of North America it was more than just a tourist stop for Don. Don, who is also lovingly referred to as the “Pacing Parson”, is on a journey. The 79-year-old “Pacing Parson” was passing through Rugby as part of a promise he made to Betty Mayfield, who, two weeks after he made his promise to her, passed away.
Betty was inflicted with Pulmonary Hypertension (PH). Pulmonary hypertension is an increase of blood pressure in the pulmonary artery, pulmonary vein, or pulmonary capillaries, together known as the lung vasculature, leading to dizziness, fainting, leg swelling and other symptoms. Pulmonary hypertension can be a severe disease with a markedly decreased exercise tolerance, leading to heart failure. At this time there is no cure. The illness can result in a patient needing an organ transplant to survive.
When Don saw firsthand the plight of Betty, he did what he does best. He made it his mission to bring awareness and funds to this incurable disease one step at a time. As Don became more knowledgeable of the disease and whom it affected, he started a plan to walk from his hometown of Auburn, Washington, to the Pulmonary Hypertension Association’s headquarters in Silver Springs, Maryland a trip of 3000 miles more-or-less or by Don’s calculations a trip of 60,000 steps.
Don is a former U.S. Marine, pastor, teacher, author, poet, truck driver, firefighter and EMT. Don shares he is no stranger to life’s challenges. According to Don, “My greatest strengths are my faith in God and my love for others.” When asked why he does it Don replied, “I have empathy for those in pain, their pain is mine and want to do what I can to help.” Don continued, “If it wasn’t for the causes I probably wouldn’t walk around the block, but when I can do it for others, when my walking means something positive can happen for others then I can walk and walk and walk.” Apart from his personal relationship with Jesus Christ, He believes the greatest calling any man can receive is the call to serve others. With strong conviction, he often says, “The most peaceful person on earth is he who gives his life to help others. The most miserable person on the planet is he who thinks only of himself.”
It all started in 1998 when his father-in-law died of Alzheimer’s disease, a loss that inspired him to make his first journey that started from Seattle and ended in Portland, Maine. That walk resulted in Don’s raising $60,000 for Alzheimer’s awareness, and that walk was just the beginning.
Since 1998, Don has walked over 50,000 miles to raise awareness and funds for others. According to Don he has logged over 60,000 miles, with walks for Alzheimer’s, the American Cancer Society, Multiple Sclerosis, a walk he did blindfolded for 160s for the blind, a climb up Mt. Ranier for the American Lung Association and a trip by foot around the perimeter of Washington State for a boy in need of an organ transplant.
Most of the time during the 60,000 miles that Don has logged he does so alone, when asked what he thinks about during those long stretches of solitude Don shared, “I think about the people who are less fortunate than myself. I take the time to think about issues, it gives me time to reflect.” Don continued, “I write future sermons in my mind, I make up songs. Mostly, I just think. Thinking and walking is the best way to get rid of stress and I can tell you I have very little stress.”
Though his walks may be singular in nature, Don is very much married and his lovely wife Loretta is as much as part of these journeys as Don himself. Loretta and Don have been married 32 years and Loretta is in charge of all logistics, from making sure Don is hydrated, nourished, picked up at the end of a long day’s walk to make sure they have a place to stay and rest before the next days adventure. They are a team and together there sole goal is to make a difference.
When asked about any special experiences during the many days over the last 27 years they have been on the road walking for others, they shared one experience that even today, almost 14 years later brings tears to Loretta’s eyes. On September 7th 2001 Don and Loretta were at the World Trade Center in New York City as part of one of their walks for a cause. Don and Loretta shared that they met so many great people that day which included going to the top of the one of the World Trade Buildings. When on the top floor they looked out over the vast skies and as Don said, “It was eerie as planes flew by, you were so high up and you just thought, what if?” Loretta remembered how nice everybody was and how they met the electricians for the buildings who were outside that day bringing attention to their wages. What Don remembers most is that how tired he was the night before and wanted a few days rest. Don told us, “I asked Loretta to reschedule for the next Tuesday, September 11th.” A stickler for keeping on schedule, Loretta talked Don into keeping on schedule and because of that they avoided being part of the horrific events of 911.
Don is dedicating this walk to the memory of Betty Mayfield; to Dorothy Fitch (currently suffering with PH), and to Cullen Steele- a teenager who recently received a double lung and heart-transplant and is now recuperating nicely. He was diagnosed with PH when he was eights years old and is now fifteen years of age. If you would like to donate to Don’s current effort, go to www.o2breathe.org/fightPH15 and click on Don Stevenson.
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