Fitness has been an integral part of Rob Wilkins’ life. He grew up playing basketball, baseball and football. Later, he wrote for bodybuilding magazines and became a personal trainer.
That background allowed him to be a fitness instructor in several of the Air Force units he served with during his 26-year career. “In the military, it’s important to be fit and to look fit,” said the retired master sergeant. “I thought the military provided great workout facilities. My supervisors were very encouraging about making fitness an important part of our day because you have to prepare for what could be the worst day of your life. If you are in combat, you can rely on your fitness to sustain through a long battle.”
In the mid-1990s, his commander approved a health screening for the 600-person unit. During the screening, three servicemembers were found to have underlying physical conditions that may have led to illness or even early death.
“Afterward it was well known around the unit to take these screenings seriously,” said Wilkins, who received an Air Force Commendation Medal for the initiative. “If I hadn’t pushed for it, maybe one of those people would not have been there. In fact, one of them told me, ‘Thanks to you, I’m going to see my grandchild.’”
Wilkins, a member of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, views The American Legion’s 100 Miles for Hope in the same way.
“I see what The American Legion is doing at a time when there is a lot of stress in our country,” he said, noting that alcohol and drug use are on the rise. “Keeping people moving is important. Going out and running, or walking, or riding a bike makes you feel better. I applaud The American Legion for doing this.”
National Commander Bill Oxford’s 100 Miles for Hope challenge was created to get participants active while also funding the Veterans & Children Foundation. From Aug. 3 through Veterans Day — 100 days — Oxford challenged American Legion members to walk, run, bicycle, ride a motorcycle or cover that distance any way they choose.
There is still time to register at Emblem Sales and complete the distance. For a $30 registration fee, participants receive a tech shirt, sign for posting on social media and a welcome e-mail that contains a link to a downloadable PDF of a certificate of accomplishment that they can customize, print and display.
Wilkins quickly surpassed his 100 miles by walking, riding regular and stationary bikes, and running. His goal is 500 miles by Veterans Day.
“You have to walk the walk,” said Wilkins, a member of American Legion Post 141 in Richmond, Va. “If we say this is important to our country, we need to show it is important to us. As a member of The American Legion for many years, when I saw that initiative, I thought, ‘How could I not join? How could I not be a part of this?’ Something that I have believed in for many years is doing something positive.”
After Wilkins signed up, his wife and son bought him a bike. “I told them not to buy me a bike because I won’t use it. But I’ve been on it every single day.”
He figures he’s covering about 7 or 8 miles a day. “Mixing it up is better because you want to work different muscles. You don’t want to overdo anything.”
Additionally, those who have been inactive should consult their physician before beginning any strenuous activity, Wilkins recommends.
“Many people have gotten out of shape because they are no longer with their unit,” he explained. “They no longer have their comrades around them who can help them. Take this opportunity to continue, or re-establish, your physical fitness routine. Be sure to get medically cleared before you start a new physical fitness program. Take your time, have a goal and have fun doing it.”
It’s well worth the benefits, he says. “Some people who have been inactive for years are now doing it. Think about the pounds that are being lost. Think about the mobility that is being increased.”
The 100 Miles campaign is in line with what the President’s Council on Fitness is striving to achieve.
The council’s goal is simple, Wilkins said. “Our goal is to get Americans moving again. But our focus is also on youth sports because so many lessons come from youth sports. We want kids to not just learn how to throw a ball but to take an interest in your teammate who may have a different skin color or religion or not look like you. We want kids to find more ways that we are alike and not different.”
It’s also a national security issue, he points out.
“Right now, 70 percent of our kids could not serve in the armed forces because of a lack of physical fitness and obesity-related diseases. We need to make sure that kids are fit to fight for the defense of our nation.”
For more information about the challenge, including the registration page and FAQ section are available at www.legion.org/100miles.