Mall walking: The crowd that comes before the crowd

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By David Lake and Dan Benson

After logging more than 13,000 hours of flying time and starting the UVU aviation program, Michael Falgoust suffered a heart attack and lost his license to fly. Falgoust’s doctor gave him some interesting advice to help in his recovery: go to the mall.

Falgoust is one of many people who head to the University Mall in Orem early every morning for their daily exercise: mall walking. Those participants in the University Mall are part of a widespread practice, as people all over the nation flock to malls early in the morning for exercise down their long corridors. While the University Mall is part of the longstanding mall walking tradition, the local mall is unique in the fact that it attracts a different crowd. Generally, mall walkers in other areas are comprised of senior citizens and older folks seeking an indoor opportunity to exercise. The University Mall attracts people of all ages and walks of life.

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People young and old walk at University Mall before it opens.
After suffering his heart attack, Falgoust’s doctor suggested the mall would be a great place to walk while getting away from the cold weather. A single lap around the mall is about a mile. Falgoust walks five miles each day Monday through Friday and said he tries to do about a marathon a week. His hard work has paid off and his health has improved dramatically.

“I got my flight status back,” Falgoust said. “It took two years to get qualified to fly again. I’m sure happy about that, I love flying.”

While there are older ladies and gentleman, such as Falgoust, walking the mall, mall walking has become a family affair for many people. Ruby Lunt and her daughter Becca Heaton can be found each morning walking the mall with Becca’s young son they call “Squishy” sitting in his stroller. Lunt began walking the mall years ago and Heaton recently decided to join her mother. The two ladies have become a part of the community.

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While Lunt and Heaton do not know all the walkers by name, they do have nicknames for many of their fellow walkers. The “friendly grandpa” walks around the mall and waves to every single person in the mall each time he passes them, even if he has already waved to them 10 times that day. The “skipping grandpa” is the fastest walker in the mall, and when he gets really into his exercise, he takes off skipping. The “backwards girls” are two walkers who mysteriously walk against the flow of traffic for the last half of their exercise.

“They’re like from England, they drive on the wrong side of the road,” Heaton joked.

The “backwards girls,” Bonnie Lartey and┬áCindy McDonald, began walking the mall just over a year ago. After getting their kids ready for school each morning, they head to the mall. The two women walk with the flow of traffic for their first two laps of the day and then finish going against the grain.

“According to my Curves trainer, it’s a lot better for your brain to change it up,” McDonald said.

Lartey has seen dramatic improvement since implementing mall walking into her workout regimen. Over the last 15 months, Lartey has lost 110 pounds through mall walking and a healthier diet. While many of the mall regulars transition to outside exercise during the summer, the “backwards girls” prefer to stay inside. They said there is no excuse to miss exercise due to poor weather conditions when you work out in the mall.

“It’s always a good day at the mall,” Lartey said.

While Don Marshall is known in the local community for being a former BYU professor and starting BYU’s International Cinema program, he is better known in the mall as the “skipping grandpa.” Marshall cruises the mall with an old cassette player strapped to his hip and a set of headphones sitting backwards on his head.

Marshall’s music choices are comprised mostly of music from other areas around the world, including Brazil, Yugoslavia, Africa, Korea and Tahiti. Marshall said much of the music is extremely upbeat. When the rhythm is right, he can’t hold back.

“When the music says ‘skip,’ I skip,” Marshall said.

Marshall began mall walking because his nephew told him he needed to lose weight. His sister suggested he get started at the mall. His fast-paced walking and skipping paid off immediately. Marshall lost between 30 and 40 pounds within the first month of his mall-walking routine. He has now been exercising in the mall for years and enjoys the mall’s welcoming atmosphere.

“It’s like a club out here,” Marshall said. “You wave even if you don’t know them.”

Perhaps the most famous walker in the mall is Mary Wilkerson, a 90-year-old woman. Nearly all the walkers know Wilkerson and refer to her solely as Mary. Wilkerson has a child and a grandchild who walk the mall with her regularly, but the sense of family at the mall extends far beyond her literal progeny.

Wilkerson had her 90th birthday party at the mall in February and many of the mall walkers were in attendance. Many people brought gifts and cards for her. The warm reception she has received at her birthday party and on a daily basis has had a major impact on her.

“It feels almost like home here,” she said.

 

[Contributions by Michael Richardson]

 

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