Story by Greg Mitchell, FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs
YOKOSUKA, Japan – Giving back to the community can be an important part of people’s lives no matter where they live. Recently members and friends of a Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka fitness group took that philosophy to heart, and took a “Walk”. However, the “Walk” was not just any walk but a hundred-mile circuit of Kanagawa prefecture that raised more than $9,000 for Shunko Gakuen, a children’s home in Koyabe, Yokosuka City.
“I was introduced to Shunko Gakuen through my husband’s command, Naval Facility Engineering Command Far East’s (NAVFAC FE) sponsorship,” said Kelly Hendricks, lead coordinator for the Walk-a-thon and a CrossFit practitioner at FLEACT Yokosuka. CrossFit is a FLEACT Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) hosted exercise group.
“I had the opportunity to tour and visit with the staff of Shunko Gakuen about six months ago with the intent of becoming a volunteer,” Hendricks said.
She offered to provide cleaning and cooking, as well as donating used toys or clothes for the children yet, Shunko Gakuen asked only for volunteers ‘time’, which consisted of volunteers bringing their own children to the home to just play, or take some of the children on an outing
“Honestly, this paralyzed me,” said Hendricks. “I did not know how to move forward but knew that I must.”
For more than 70 years the Navy has supported Shunko Gakuen, constructing playgrounds, repairing and maintaining the buildings, said Hendricks. She said she felt compelled to find a ‘creative way’ to give back to the children at Shunko. Seeking assistance from her CrossFit brothers and sisters, the 100-mile walk-a-thon was born, said Hendricks.
“Kelly has done things for the children’s home in the past, and so we thought together what can we do?” said Stephanie Cherrstrom, CrossFit instructor. “[Shunko Gakuen doesn’t] take donations. We then decided to get together and create a website to help push our cause.”
The group set a goal to raise $5,000, but eventually exceeded expectations by raising over $9,000.
Cherrstrom accredited exercise student Hayley Swann with coming up with the route that would give the CrossFit team their 100 mile trek.
The volunteers broke the walk into three days Oct. 11-13, said Hendricks. The first day’s trek consisted of 39 miles which the group completed in about 17 hours. That night, the group stayed in Chigasaki, with an overnight camp support group.
The ensuing morning, the group walked to Camp Zama, which amounted to 27 miles over the course of 12 hours. The third day the group became challenged with the presence of typhoon-like conditions yet, they made the 10-hour, 34 mile trek from Zama to eventually arrive at Yokosuka base at approximately 8:30 p.m.
“This was an amazing weekend, full of laughs, cries, unexpected events, love, motivation and some of the best memories ever,” said Kevin Warford, Project Material Manager, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Detachment Yokosuka, Japan.
“My six-year old son Kapena walked about 9-1/2 miles and as he put it, ‘I’m walking for the kids;’ it was unbelievable. Now in the aftermath, I am sure everyone is hobbling around at our jobs. Just for any of us to be a part of something this special is truly inspiring and a little courageous.”
Of all the participants, one person was able to complete the entire 100 miles; that distinction went to Jewel Brown.
“I was determined to finish it, and the only way I wouldn’t would be due to the fact that I could not physically walk anymore,” said Brown, wife of Senior Chief Petty Officer Wayne Anthony Brown, a Machinist Mate aboard USS George Washington (CVN 73).
“In (CrossFit) class, it is a challenge every day for all of us in a good way. In this case, we were all walking for a cause, so I just told myself that I was going to do it.”
Brown emphasized the importance of being a part of a team and that her ‘CrossFit family’ helped her throughout the entire walk-a-thon.
“This isn’t about me,” said Brown. “I had someone with me the entire time. This was a group-oriented effort and I don’t think I would have been able to finish had my teammates not been there. I leave here next summer so if given the opportunity to do it again, I will.”