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NC woman treks through Gainesville to raise awareness of caregivers for elderly

POSTED: May 15, 2012 1:30 a.m.

In her neon reflective vest, it’s hard to miss Teri Swezey walking along the shoulder of highways and state routes.

With the jewel-toned pinwheel sticking up from her backpack, it’s clear that she’s trying to get the attention of passers-by. But she certainly isn’t looking for a lift.

"My mission for this walk is to try and draw attention to the challenges that caregivers and the vulnerable elderly are facing," Swezey said.

The name of her journey is SOAR (Seniors Obtaining Assistance and Resources) Feat 2012. She’ll be walking from coast to coast — that’s more than 3,000 miles of traveling.

Her passion for this cause was born from her own real life experience.

"I took care of my mom for three years before she passed," Swezey said.

"Being a caregiver is an around-the-clock job. It’s like working three eight-hour shifts. Even when I was at work, my heart was with mom, worrying if she was OK."

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, in 2009 more than 65 million people, 29 percent of the U.S. population, provided care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend and spent an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.

That number is expected to increase as more of the U.S. population ages.

And caregivers experience more depression, less medical care and less healthy eating habits than their peers according to the NAC.

"There isn’t a lot of support out there for the caregivers," she said.

Although she’s been thinking of doing the walk for a number of years, it took a friend’s influence to get her to hit the pavement.

"A friend of mine who had Lou Gehrig’s disease died. He was only 47 years old," Swezey said.

"He lived life to the fullest even with Lou Gehrig’s. When he died, I said life is short. There will never be a perfect time to do it, so we’re just going to do it."

To help fund her walk, Swezey sold her home. And since she’s planning to raise money for services and programs like Meals on Wheels that benefit seniors, she’s also applied for nonprofit status with the IRS.

The 57-year-old began her journey on April Fool’s Day.

"No joke," said Swezey with a laugh.

She started in Wrightsville Beach, a town in her home state of North Carolina.

She reached Gainesville over the weekend. Her goal is to make it to the West Coast by the fall.

"I don’t think you can really train for something like this," Swezey said.

"Before I started, I was walking between 30 to 50 miles a week. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how quickly I built endurance and stamina."

Outside of a dehydration incident in Myrtle Beach, Swezey has had a pretty breezy experience.

"I packed my bike just in case. If I become injured, this will become a walk and roll," Swezey said jokingly.

"I hope it doesn’t come to that though."

Since her walk is a journey, not a race, Swezey has been observing a pretty fluid schedule.

"I walk until I feel like I need a rest day. It’s better for me to keep going than to take a regular day of rest," she said.

"I might get too used to it and then not feel like getting up. Then we’d have the Monday phenomenon and we don’t want that.

"I’ve had three or four rest days. It’s just whenever the spirit moves me."

Her feat has been bringing out a buffet of Southern hospitality.

"I was walking one day and this couple came up behind me on an (All Terrain Vehicle). They’d passed me earlier when they were driving. They brought me two really cold bottles of water," Swezey said.

"It was pretty hot that day. That was really nice."

Even Arcade Police Chief Randy Williams has left his footprints on Swezey’s journey.

After a chance meeting during her walk, Swezey learned that they have a shared passion for looking after vulnerable seniors. Williams regularly assigns officers to check in on seniors who live alone, she says.

"We need more people like him in this world," Swezey said.

"Too many of our seniors who don’t have family nearby are falling through the cracks."

To make sure she stays in tune with the needs of seniors, Swezey takes time to stop in to senior centers to chat with visitors.

"I want to talk to them about what challenges they’re facing," she said.

"The whole idea of this walk, which is mostly across rural America, is to tell the story of what is happening with seniors and their caregivers."

 


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