Worldwalker Steve Newman, other past honorees due in for Homecoming
Oct. 20, 2004
By Mary Alice Casey
Steve Newman has walked around the world. Yes, walked. He's also trekked the entire lengths of Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. His current endeavor, which he's completing in stages, has him following an ancient 1,200-mile footpath on Japan's Shikoku Island.
Still, despite all of his exotic destinations, Newman always is delighted to return to Athens. It's a journey he makes (via Jeep Cherokee) at least two or three times a year. In fact, he's headed here for Homecoming this weekend.
Newman, BSJ '77, and about 85 other past winners of Ohio University Alumni Association awards will be in town for the weekend's festivities. They'll attend Friday evening's awards gala at Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium, view the parade from the lawn of Konneker Alumni Center and watch as the Bobcats take on Bowling Green at Peden Stadium.
Twenty-one years after embarking on his world-famous walk around the globe, Newman - who earned the alumni association's Medal of Merit in 1988 - remains in demand among audiences curious about his four-year walk of more than 15,000 miles. Known as "The Worldwalker," he has spoken to thousands of groups, mostly in schools and corporations, to share tales of his encounters with Saharan sandstorms, 10-foot worms and, above all, the wonderful people he met along his walk through 21 countries on five continents.
He estimates that journey, which made him the first person ever documented to have walked solo around the world, required 41 million steps. They were steps he took to learn about the world and to see if was still a place where love and compassion prevail.
"I wanted to find some of the magic I knew as a kid," explains Newman, who today lives on 25 peaceful, hilltop acres overlooking the Ohio River near Ripley, Ohio. "Every step was a challenge because it was new and it was strange."
Between talks and other obligations, Newman travels to Japan about twice a year for two- or three-week stints to resume what is known as the Henro pilgrimage of Shikoku Island. Since 600 A.D., Buddhist monks in search of enlightenment have traveled the path that connects 88 temples. Newman has made it to 39 temples so far.
"I do it because of the allure of adventure," says Newman. "And it's a chance to gain something new to share."
The Bethel, Ohio, native would like the opportunity to tell of another trek that so far has eluded his long list of accomplishments. The one walk he'd like to take more than any other is a 2,500-mile journey along the Great Wall of China. An extensive proposal has been created to allow him to do just that.
In 1957, Robert Carl Cohen became the first American permitted to film in China after the Communist takeover of 1949. After decades of trying, he has received permission from the Chinese government to film the wall's entire length.
Newman, now 50, has been tapped to lead the expedition, which would involve a television series, celebrity walkers such as musicians and athletes who could help bring the culture of China to the world, a friendship concert and more. Despite several near deals, Cohen, Newman and executive producer Brian Doubleday so far have been unable to land a sponsor willing to provide the $6 million the expedition and related projects would cost.
"From what we understand, there has never been an expedition that has explored the entire wall from one end to the other," Newman says. "I like to think it's going to happen."
For now, though, the author of three books ("Letters from Steven," "Worldwalk" and "Guardians of Yellowstone," which he co-authored with Dan Sholly) is content with the two- to three-mile walks he takes each day with his wife, Darci, and their lucky black lab, Gabriel.
Mary Alice Casey is the editor of Ohio Today.