I caught up with 71-year-old William Shuttleworth Sunday as he headed west on Routes 5&20, near the Ontario County hamlet of Aloquin.
He was walking.
In fact, he has a lot of walking ahead of him as he makes his way from Massachusetts to California — all on foot. He expects the trip to take seven months — ending around Halloween at the Vandenberg Air Force Base — and through 13 states.
Thinking that I can hardly walk the length of Seneca Lake State Park and back at age 63, my first question to him was, “Are you crazy?”
He said no, but his wife may think so.
The journey is part of a mission to raise awareness to some of the issues facing veterans these days. Those include eliminating veteran homelessness and preventing suicide while also increasing medical care and treatment for opioid, drug and alcohol addictions.
Shuttleworth served six years in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.
A grandfather of eight, he originally was planning on a more southerly path in New York through Binghamton, but changed his route to pass through the Finger Lakes. The reason: His sister, who is in her 80s, lives in Bloomfield and he wanted to spend a little time with her.
The two were raised in Allegheny County, but Shuttleworth spent a great deal of his life in Maine and now Massachusetts.
He has received an amazing outpouring of support for his walk, including lots of media coverage. MSN currently is running a video piece on him as the network’s hero for May. While I was talking to him near a roadside farm, several people offered him donations.
Shuttleworth walks about 30 miles a day, maybe longer as the daylight lengthens in June. He carries a 23-pound backpack with everything he needs. He doesn’t pay to stay in motels nor does he accept rides.
He has stayed as a guest in a few homes, calling the folks who have put him up “guardian angels.” He also receives some free meals; Sweet Sue’s Country Diner on Routes 5&20, for example, provided him a breakfast “on the house.”
While passing by the small Aloquin-Flint United Methodist Church, the pastor came out to greet him and say hello. After chatting with William, he invited him in to speak to his congregation. William, who is deeply spiritual, was happy to oblige and as the pastor found, in him, the perfect way to tie Memorial Day in with his sermon.
The parishioners later passed a plate to donate to William’s cause.
As far as his fitness? No problem. When he was 58 he finished the Boston Marathon with the second hottest temperatures in its history.
Sometimes folks along the way are so inspired by his effort they will join him for 5-10 miles of walking.
He took part in Canandaigua’s Memorial Day Parade Monday and also plans to stop, along the way, at VA Centers, American Legions, etc.
I asked if he ever gets bored. It was a resounding no. He thinks about the day’s conversations and welcomes dialogue with as many folks as possible. He feels that direct type of energy is the best way to make a difference.
William encourages people to visit his website at vetsdontfor getvets.com, and he also welcomes phone calls. When I called him at (207) 844-0666, he answered within two rings. The money Shuttleworth raises will go to the Disabled American Veterans Association.