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With walking stick in hand, Raymond Spillman, the 2013 starter for the Derby Dash 5K race; strides through his memories as he strengthens his body at the Williamstown Cemetery. But, Spillman has not always walked his way to health.
Since retiring from full-time farming as well as full-time tractor repairman, Spillman spent a lot time just sitting on his couch.
Last April as he sat on that couch with a self-described “pretty good sized tummy” and health issues. Norma, his wife of 49 years, asked him what he was going to do about it. “I’m going to join Biggest Winner and I’m gonna lose me some weight,” he said. And join he did.
The Biggest Winner (BW) is the healthy competition organized by the local, non-profit organization, Fitness For Life Around Grant County (FFLAG,) to improve the health and health-awareness of Grant County’s citizens.
The contest has been held during the month of April for the last eight years. Competitors attend numerous exercise classes from Arthritis Foundation Exercise to Zumba Fitness and healthy lifestyles classes from diabetes to vegetarianism. The goal is to have Grant Countians have healthier lifestyles and curb the current obesity crisis.
At Williamstown’s annual Derby Day Festival, which will be May 4, FFLAG also hosts the annual Derby Dash 5K run/walk, which is in its ninth year.
“I think that Biggest Winner is a good thing, it’s for a good organization and for $10, they give you a $15 T-shirt, they give you a bag, you go to the gym and work out for 30 days and it doesn’t cost you nothing. I mean, for ten bucks, that’s cheap. That’s how I got started at the gym. Those people at that gym. They’re just a big family. They are so nice to you. They joke and cut up and kid with you,” Spillman said.
When he joined BW, Spillman weighed 289 pounds.
“I lost 18 pounds and 12 percent body fat. So I thought I done pretty good. So I just kept staying on my diet and worked out,” he said.
Walking through the cemetery, Spillman pauses at the gravesites of his mother and father. His parents rest, overlooking the next hill, where their farm was located. Most days, he will stop at the bench near their gravesites.
“Every time I walk out here I usually sit down there and meditate for 10 or 15 minutes, be with my mom and dad.” I’m 71 years old, but I don’t think you ever get over losing your family,” he said.
Family is important to Spillman. He walks and talks with loving pride of his wife, children, grandchildren and friends, even noting his best friend who is buried along the trek in the grave yard.
“He died at 52 (of a heart attack). We was the same age,” Spillman said.
His mom died at 62 and his dad died at 74 of cancer.
“So, I go get a colonoscopy every three or four years and get everything checked and thank the good lord I don’t have any cancer yet.”
But, sometimes he can overdo the workouts.
“Three weeks ago, that leg went out from under me, I walked on crutches for two days.” That was when his trainer at the gym told him he was doing too much. He dropped his four-mile a day treadmill, going back to his regular six to eight mile walking days with weight training during the week.
His day begins with a walk to Williamstown School and back.
“Believe you me, that doggone hill there is steep!” As he walks, he uses his stick.
There’s a story about the stick. It was given to him by Dr. Darl Shipp’s father, John Shipp, because of his ability to drop tobacco sticks quickly.
“He (John) called me one day to come help cut tobacco. I was dropping sticks but Shipp could not keep up with me so he told me to take the stick because when I got his age, I was gonna need it,” Spillman said.
He estimates the stick is at least 50 years old.
Unfortunately, while trying to develop a healthy lifestyle, he’s had some brushes with rudeness. One girl, talking or texting on her cellphone while driving, ran him up the side of hill. Another day, a couple of boys threw pennies at him.
“I picked up 22 of them. I waved my stick and told them to come back because I wanted to give them their change, but they just kept going,” he said.
It didn’t stop his quest for better health and he continues the daily trek.
“A lot of days I make myself walk. You can ask Billie that works down to the gym, a lot of days I can’t hardly walk when I get there, but I go ahead and do it. Cause Gary (Melton, his doctor) told me down there three years ago, ‘in five years, Norma will be pushing you around in a wheel chair.’ I told him no, not me. So I got two more years to prove him wrong. So I’m going to keep walking,” he said.
And so he does, 56 pounds lighter, walking stick in hand; continuing on his journey to wellness.