Kent State Employee and Wellness Ambassador “Walks the World”
Mark van ‘t Hooft, Ph.D., electronic research administration support analyst in Kent State University’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, took to the Netherlands for four days this summer and walked 125 miles in the largest multiday marching event in the world. A lunch and learn was recently hosted by the Division of Human Resources’ Employee Wellness office to celebrate and recognize his achievements and continued dedication as an employee wellness ambassador.
The International Four Days Marches takes place in Nijmegen, Netherlands, in mid-July. This annual walk began in 1909 and celebrated its 100th iteration in 2016 – the walk faced cancellations during the first and second world wars. Depending on age and gender, participants walk either 30, 40 or 50 kilometers each day for four days.
Dr. van ‘t Hooft says the youngest participant this year was 11 years old and the oldest was 90. According to the official website of the International Four Days Marches, more than 40,000 people have taken part annually in recent years.
Dr. van ‘t Hooft, whose family is from the Netherlands, had been attempting to enter the walk since 2015, but because of the registration lottery system and the centennial in 2016, he was not able to enter until this past summer. Once someone participates their first year they are almost guaranteed a spot the following year.
Dr. van ‘t Hooft trained for six months, walked more than 800 miles and wore out two pairs of shoes in preparation for the walk. He hiked 125 miles in July during the event. He was one of 7,782 to walk in the 50 km (30-miles-per-day) category, which is the approximate walking distance from the Kent Campus to Progressive Field.
Dr. van ‘t Hooft started each day at 4 a.m. and finished between 12:45 and 2:15 p.m. Each day posed a different route and weather conditions, with challenges including a route full of hills, torrential rain and a heat wave that brought 90-degree weather.
“Encouragement from people on the course and the sides of the road pushed me through,” Dr. van ‘t Hooft says. “You’re all in this together, and you help each other out. It helps the time go by.”
Throughout the four days, he remembers people cheering, handing out cucumber slices, watermelon and pretzel sticks while giving high-fives and playing music.
Kim Hauge, Kent State’s director of employee wellness and co-chair of Kent State of Wellness, an ongoing initiative to be one of the healthiest campuses in the nation, learned about van ‘t Hooft’s plans from one of his co-workers.
“This is a real testimonial to his commitment to achieve a goal he set for himself, as well as his personal well-being goals,” Ms. Hauge says. “He’s one of our employee wellness ambassadors – they help be the messenger and encourager and make sure other employees are informed about what’s going on. While he was in Holland, he was still sending emails to his co-workers about wellness events happening at Kent State. His story is a real tribute to advocacy toward wellness.”
Ms. Hauge has been working on programs for employees that promote wellness and encourage making healthy choices in a personal way. She sees Dr. van ‘t Hooft as a great example of what people can do if they step outside their comfort zones.
“There are little pockets of great things happening all over Kent State,” Ms. Hauge says. “We want to build an environment here where people feel like they can thrive, achieve their personal well-being goals and become their best selves.”