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American Take on European Sport

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 1998 – "Volksmarch? What's that?"

That was my response when a friend invited me to one when I was stationed in Germany. He explained it was a way to get out of the barracks, meet people and get some exercise.

I went and I was glad I did.

Many American service members get their exposure to volkssports in Europe. Now they can continue the sport in the United States.

The American Volkssport Association has been up and running for two decades. Like its European counterparts, the association encourages average Americans to exercise. Local chapters sponsor biking and swimming, but the main events are the volksmarches.

Volksmarches are measured hikes, usually 10 kilometers long. Participants can walk, jog, run, mosey along. The march is not competitive -- you don't get extra credit for finishing first. But you do get a sense of accomplishment when you finish.

What all participants do receive is credit. The AVA tracks the kilometers a person walks and the number of events. The participant receives a pin and patch upon reaching certain milestones.

America differs from Europe in that U.S. clubs sponsor two different types of volksmarches: scheduled events and year-round events.

Organizers usually hold one-time-only scheduled events on weekends. Participants pay a nominal fee and receive credit for the walk and a patch, medal or other commemorative souvenir. Local clubs sponsor literally hundreds of events across the country most weekends.

Year-round events are just that -- open to walkers all year long. Local clubs map a course and participants check in at a start point. They fill out paperwork, pay their $2 and follow the map. There are checkpoints along the way.

Most year-round events go through historic or scenic areas. The 10 most popular year-round events for 1997, for example, were the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas; West Point, N.Y.; Devils Tower, Wyo.; Central Park and Midtown Manhattan, both in New York City; the National Mall, Washington; Hot Springs, Ark.; Savannah, Ga.; Princeton, N.J.; and the Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colo.

The American Volkssport Association has more than 40,000 members in the awards program. Still more Americans take part in association-sponsored events. More than 530 local clubs do the grunt work of setting up events. To find a local club, call (800) 830-WALK. An electronic voice takes you through a menu.

The association also maintains an Internet homepage at http://www.ava.org. The page includes links to local clubs.

A quick perusal shows many clubs on or near military installations. For example, there's the Pentagon Pacesetters in Virginia, the Falcon Wanderers in Colorado Springs, Colo., the Northern Lights Volksmarchers of Alaska at Fort Richardson and the Coronado Beachcombers in San Diego.

The American Volkssport Association is part of the International Federation of Popular Sports -- more commonly known by its German abbreviation, IVV. Countries participating in the IVV are Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, Great Britain, Japan, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain, Hungary, Ireland, Greece, Turkey, Poland the Republic of Korea and Estonia. All IVV-sponsored events count in the United States.

AVA officials said service members also can process their awards books through AVA if they have an APO or FPO address.

An association program also honors those who complete volksmarches in all 50 states. Group officials said more than 400 people have completed this program.

"Volksmarching is healthful, it's fun, nobody competes against anyone," said Ron Hamner, president of the Pentagon Pacesetters. "Many in the military believe the sport is only in Europe. They come up to me when we sponsor an event and say they are so happy that volksmarching is coming to America. I tell them, 'We've been here for 20 years.' People who got into the sport in Europe can participate and we want them to."

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