A Walk Across Europe: Kutztown diabetes crusader on quest to control disease he calls a dragon

Submitted photos Bob Scheidt, Kutztown, completing a recent walk from Kutztown to Philadelphia to train for his trek across Europe.

Kutztown resident Bob Scheidt has walked across America, and now his goal is to Walk Across Europe, in his battle to control diabetes.

“Living with diabetes is like living with a live dragon. Rather dangerous,” said Scheidt. “So I am on a quest, not to slay this dragon, but to control it and to use the power of that dragon to make the world a better place.”

At age 57, after suffering numerous diabetes-related health complications, including triple-bypass surgery, Scheidt is still able to walk 2,650 miles across a continent.

“When I was first diagnosed with type-I diabetes in the 1970s, it was essentially a death sentence,” Scheidt said. “But now, with proper fitness and nutrition, it’s possible for lifelong diabetics to survive—and even thrive—well into their 80s.”

He started as a hiker, backpacker, and mountain climber in the early 70s, explorations that took him and his wife to New England, Virginia, and North-Central Pennsylvania. Their first trip out west was to climb and backpack in Colorado in 1977.

“Then I got caught up in the running boom of the late 1970s, eventually completing 20 marathons and 30 ultra-marathons. I switched back to walking because it felt more natural to me and my 190 pound body-type, and I walked for six straight days, 274 miles, at The Edward Payson 6-day race in 1987, becoming the first insulin-dependent diabetic to complete the race.”

His long fundraising walks across states started in 1990 with Pennsylvania, both across and up and down, then across Maryland, across Virginia, and a walk from San Francisco to Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast. The Walk Across America For Diabetes was 1997-1999. The Adventure On the Rim Of America from 2000 to 2005 took him around the perimeter of the U.S.

“Walking has evolved from being just fitness, therapy, and fun to actually being my art form. I want to walk like John Coltrane plays the saxophone, I want to walk like Jack Kerouac writes,” he said.

In 1997, Scheidt was given the name He-Who-Walks-Across-Continents by the Blackfeet Indian Tribe in Montana.

“It’s time for me to live up to that name.”

A Pilgrimage Across Europe came about as a natural progression of being his second continent, he said, noting his childhood dream of walking across all seven continents. He went through another host of health problems (broken leg from bicycle accident in North Carolina, triple bypass heart surgery as a result of diabetes-related complications, thyroid disease, etc.) from 2006 to 2010.

“Something I am used to as I have had health problems and accidents all through my life, including Type-1 diabetes for 40 years. However, I have now been somewhat healthy and training hard for two years to get to this point of time to be able to walk 15 miles a day over the Pyrenees, Alps, and Carpathians of Europe, with a 24-pound pack on.”

Scheidt will set out for Spain in April for the first leg of his journey to raise awareness about diabetes and the link between exercise and diabetes management.

Lending a hand, or more likely their feet, Kutztown students danced to raise money toward his Walk Across Europe. Scheidt and his family attended the fundraising dance held on Friday night at the middle school. A portion of ticket sales will benefit the walk.

“The Kutztown School District has always been very supportive of my adventures,” said Scheidt, whose wife and children attended KASD. A Rockland Township native, he went to Brandywine.

“The kids and teachers have inspired me to continue my explorations even during days of bad weather, illness, and general inertia. I’m very grateful for their continuing support,” he said.

Scheidt talked to the middle school students Friday afternoon,“speaking and showing slides of my past adventures.”

He has spoken a few times at KASD in the past 20 years and gave the commencement address to the high school class of 2008.

“My message is mostly: find something that makes you feel alive, then train, practice, study that discipline, live it, and use it to make the world a better place,” said Scheidt.

A Pilgrimage Across Europe, a four-year trek conducted in stages, will start with Scheidt walking across northern Spain and central France in 2013; the remainder of France and all of Switzerland in 2014; Germany, Austria and part of Hungary in 2015; and the remainder of Hungary and all of Romania in 2016. He will follow the “pilgrimage route” across Europe.

“I was intrigued by the pilgrimage route, or The Way of St. James, through Europe, as depicted in the movie ‘The Way,’” he said.“Thousands of people throughout history have walked this route, including Napoleon, Charlemagne, Saint Francis of Assisi, Shirley McClain, Paulo Cohello, etc. I pledge to honor those who have gone before me.”

He mostly sets out to raise awareness and funds for diabetes by doing programs along the way in towns, hospitals, schools, and kids camps.

“I want to show that having diabetes doesn’t have to stop you from achieving your dreams. Even after having very brittle diabetes for 40 years--and suffering from many other related complications--I’m still able to walk across continents.”

He also wants to help diabetics understand that good nutrition and regular exercise can go a long way toward achieving control over the disease.

For more information or to donate to A Walk Across Europe, visit www.diabetescrusader.org.

Sponsors of A Pilgrimage Across Europe include Deka, Solo Laboratories, Dr. William J. Messersmith- D.M.D., Thrivent Financial, Fitness By Ina, East Ridge Outfitters, Allentown Asthma and Allergy, the Kutztown Tavern, the Frying Dutchman Donut Shop, the Kutztown Rotary Club and Adrienne Wright Communications. Numerous individual donors have also supported Bob Scheidt’s walk.