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Walters announces Kinship Partner challenge

Gary Walters is nothing if not ambitious in his willingness to torture his body.

For his 12th Kinship Challenge, Walters is taking on a physical challenge that could be daunting to serious athletes. An admittedly well-nourished 48 year old, Walters might not be considered a premium athlete. But he says what he may lack in physique, he makes up for in determination.

The next challenge may require plenty of determination as Walters attempts to swim, bike and complete a marathon in a single day in the Arizona Ironman. The event — Nov. 16 in Tempe, Ariz. — involves a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride before a 26.2-mile marathon.

Walters has done all three separately. Never together. Never in one day. But he isn’t daunted by the idea. At least not yet. He started training for the ironman earlier this month.

This physical challenge falls in line with other challenges all aimed at raising funds and mentors for Kinship Partners. The nonprofit matches children, often from single parent homes, with an adult role model. The mentor and child get together weekly. Activities include everything from fishing or hiking, seeing a movie or hanging out around the house cooking or completing yardwork or attending a sporting or cultural event. The activities don’t have to be grandiose or expensive. Kinship Partners say mentors can simply incorporate the child into their regular activities.

Walters said doing the challenges to highlight the need to be involved in these childrens’ lives is what motivates him. He wanted to participate in an ironman for some time. When a friend, Josh Heldt, asked if he’d be part of the Arizona event, Walters found himself saying yes.

To guarantee a spot in the ironman event, participants are required to work at the event. Walters volunteered there in 2013. As a benefit, the terrain is relatively flat. But Walters did see three people in hard crashes during the bike segment.

“That was unnerving,” he said.

But following in one of the vans behind one of the last bikers struggling to stay on pace to continue was inspiring. Walters followed along behind for 22 miles. The woman, Rebecca Felmly, was the last bicyclist. She was followed by a motorcade. She wanted to quit but she kept going. They encouraged her on. She made it under the cutoff for biking, but didn’t finish the marathon run in time. Ironman participants have from 7 a.m. to midnight to complete the ironman.

Walters plans to blog about his efforts to be more healthy and get in shape. He hopes to show how a short, plump 48-year-old can become an ironman. It’s not exactly on the international scale as his trip to Scotland to swim across the cold waters of Loch Ness. But Walters said the wow factor this time is one that resonates with a large population of Americans who are out of shape and willing to take on a fitness challenge.

There are options for people to follow along and work on their own health and fitness goals. “We’re all obsessed with wellness,” Walters said.

While prepartion couldn’t be called Walters’ strong suit, he has talked to people who have completed an ironman. He plans to lift weights, work on his nutrition and jog.

“If you do the research you’d never do what I do,” Walters said of this and previous challenges. He noted if he had known Loch Ness had 47 degree water and six-foot eels (which he saw later at the Loch Ness Museum) he would never have gotten in the water. The water challenges, as swimming has never been an easy event for Walters, have always been a struggle mentally and physically. Many of the other challenges came with a physical cost inherent in biking or walking or jogging for miles on end.

“It just seems like a lot of hard work and a lot of pain and then you get it done,” Walters said of just going out and doing it. He said the challenges would be too daunting if he went home and thought about them. “The truth is, ignorance is bliss.”

“I’m not going to win the race. I’m not going to win my class, my group, my age,” Walters said. But he is determined to try. “It’s all about doing something hard and making it happen.”

Walters said he hopes others will consider that when they wonder if this is the year they should become mentors.

A history of Kinship challenges:

• 2003 — Walters biked from New Orleans to Baxter with his brother Craig, covering 1,540 miles in 19 days.

• 2004 — He lived nine days on a ledge of Brainerd’s historic water tower just off South Sixth Street for “Perching for Partners.”

• 2005 — Walters and his children, with Jackson, Jessica and Reggie participating, walked the length of Minnesota covering 437 miles in 22.5 days.

• 2006 — Walters swam across a rough Lake Mille Lacs with 3-foot waves. He covered 14 miles and raising about $20,000 in pledges. Walters swam on and off from about 6:30 p.m. Aug. 16 to 2:30 a.m. Aug. 17, spent a bumpy night on a pontoon and then continued to swim on and off between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Aug. 17 before reaching shore.

• 2007 — Walters lost 100 pounds in a year, going from 290 pounds to 190 through diet and exercise.

• 2008 — Walters and son Jackson unicycled for 24 hours around the track at Brainerd High School.

• 2009 — Walters and Jackson traveled on inline skates from Brainerd to Washington D.C. as daughter Jessica traveled with them on her bike.

• 2010 — Walters completed the Twin Cities Marathon in 6 hours and 32 minutes. He said he thought about quitting but kept on because he wasn’t doing it for himself but was doing it for Kinship Partners.

• 2011 — Walters, along with Jackson and Jessica, completed the “Coast to Coast for Kids” challenge, riding 3,179 miles on bicycles on a 54-day trek covering the width of the nation between the East Coast and the West Coast.

• 2012 — For his 10th challenge, Walters’ goal was to raise funds and awareness for Kinship Partners and focus attention on being more healthy. He set up a trifecta of activities. The trifecta included working toward and keeping a healthy weight. He biked 200 miles during 15 hours covering the distance between Baxter and Bemidji and back again with his teenage daughter Jessica. And he completed the Twin Cities Marathon in October in 5 hours and 59 minutes, in time to qualify as a marathoner.

• 2013 — Walters swam across Loch Ness in Scotland and proved once and for all if the fabled monster has any interest in a man from Minnesota clad in a wet suit. Nessie didn’t. Walters said the Scottish people were great and he learned the benefit of making everything an adventure. The event raised $11,100 for Kinship Partners.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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