Volkssporters to bring fun, fitness, friendship to Altamont

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Taking in the sights: Wayne Knapp and Kathy Mack stroll along Maple Avenue, past Victorian buildings in Altamont. On Sept. 22, hundreds of Volksmarchers will be following in their footsteps.

ALTAMONT — This week, Wayne Knapp and Kathy Mack, a couple from Guilderland, will be strolling the grounds of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia plantation, and they will also be exploring, on foot, the nation’s capital of country music: Nashville, Tennessee.

They’ve intimately experienced scenes on the other side of the country, too. They have walked the streets of San Francisco and the trails at Yosemite — all as Volkssporters.

Now they are publicizing a walk in Altamont, to be held on Sept. 22.

Mack serves as publicist for the Empire State Capital Volkssporters, and her husband, Knapp, as vice president. The word “volkssport” is German and translates as “people’s sport,” said Knapp.

“We designed a walk,” said Knapp — actually two walks. One is 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) and the other is 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). “We’ve been planning this one for over a year,” said Knapp.

“It has to be reviewed and sanctioned,” said Mack, which is done by the national headquarters in Texas.

“Our president suggested Altamont,” said Knapp, referring to Teresa Kennedy.

Kennedy was inspired by the village’s Museum in the Streets project, which placed lecterns with pictures in front of 27 historic sites in the village and its environs. Part of the Altamont walk will include the labyrinth in Altamont’s Schilling Park.

The club has about 250 members but anyone can join the walkers for a $2 fee to cover insurance.

“Accidents happen,” said Mack, explaining the need for insurance.

She noted that clubs across the country  — there are 250 — were devastated when three Volkssporters walkers were killed during a walk in Voorheesville in August 2011 after a sports utility vehicle veered off the road and crashed into the portico of St. Matthew’s Church.

The local club is part of the American Volkssport Association, which in turn is a part of an international organization, Internationaler  Volkssportverband, known as IVV. The AVA, with 3,000 events a year, bills itself as “America’s Premier Noncompetitive Sports Organization.”

Knapp and Mack fit the profile of the average volkssporter, which the AVA describes as a “baby boomer in his or her mid-fifties and usually an empty-nester either approaching or beginning retirement.” Knapp is 71 and Mack is 65.

Describing what keeps them at it, Knapp says, “We have a motto: Fun, fitness, friendship.”

“And food,” adds Mack with a laugh.

“We walk, get exercise, and talk,” said Knapp.

“It’s a walking cocktail party,” Mack adds.

AVA literature says, “Walking is the most popular of all U.S. volkssporting activities and has been identified by the U.S. Surgeon General as the most beneficial form of exercise.” Other Volkssporting events include hikes, bike rides, swims, and cross-country skiing.

“It started in Germany in the 1960s,” he said. “A lot of American servicemen in Germany did these walks. When they came back from Germany, they held the first American volksmarch in Texas.”

Walking is called volksmarching.

The Empire State Capital Volkssporters started 31 years ago. Knapp and Mack have been active in the group for a decade.

They first heard of it a quarter of a century ago when their children were young and they took them out for a meal and ice cream at a Friendly’s restaurant in Schenectady. “When we came out, there were all these walkers. I stopped a fellow, Ed Koch, and asked him what it was,” recalled Knapp.

The man with the same name as the late New York City mayor is still an active member of the club.

Next year, the local club will host a convention that will attract walkers from all over the world, Knapp said.

Mack described the way the walks make participants truly see the communities they visit.

She said, for example, that she frequently travels on Route 50 in Ballston Spa but didn’t appreciate the place until she walked its streets.

“We walked the roads on either side. Suddenly, I saw a beautiful community I had never seen before. There’s the house where Abner Doubleday was born. Who knew?” She was referencing the Civil War Union general who is reputed to have invented the game of baseball.

Mack concludes, “Whoever designs a walk knows what is interesting in the town … You see a concentrated bit of what local people think is important. ”

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