Christmas is a good time for inspirational stories, and one well-known economic development leader from High Point has a very special story to tell – one that may have remained unknown had a Greensboro city councilmember not encouraged him to share it.
Anyone in the region who has any knowledge of economic development knows of Loren Hill – the former longtime head of the High Point Economic Development Corp., who retired two years ago before taking a new job as the Piedmont Triad Partnership’s Carolina Core regional economic development director.
Those who’ve watched Hill over the past three years have seen a dramatic change in him: He began losing weight. And he kept losing and losing, and looking healthier and healthier.
For a long time, people have been asking him how he did it and, in the last month especially, some people who follow Hill on Facebook have also asked his secret. One of those was Greensboro City Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter – who Hill said “nudged” him to share his story after she heard it.
Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, was a very special day – a “milestone” Hill called it – for him and his wife, Joyce. The two reached 1,000 days in a row of exercise walking outdoors.
“We began on March 16, 2020, as gyms were shutting down due to the pandemic, and we were going into quarantine,” Hill said. “We haven’t missed a day of exercise walking outdoors – despite inclement weather conditions, packed calendars, each of us having outpatient surgery, and each of us getting COVID and having other medical issues.”
Joyce has leukemia, and the two were in complete lockdown at home for the first five months of the pandemic. They couldn’t go anywhere other than doctors’ offices. Not the grocery store, not to friends’ houses, not anywhere – and, in that challenging situation, the couple found that walking outdoors was great for both their physical and mental health.
“My mantra at the beginning of the walking – which is still in effect – is, ‘Today, I’m going to do the best I can do today,’” he said. “Before the pandemic started, due to challenged knees, my only aerobic workouts were aquafit classes. When the gyms closed down due to the pandemic, I needed to find some other exercise outlet.”
Hill said he had knee replacement surgery planned to take place after he retired on Jan. 1, 2021, and he needed to lose 30 pounds before having that surgery.
With the very busy lifestyle of an economic development leader – eating meals on the run and little time for exercise – he was keeping the weight on. Another reason it was hard to lose weight is that his wife is famous for her excellent cooking. (Probably a lot of the major High Point successes attracting new business to the city over the years were sealed after the prospects dined on one of Joyce’s homecooked meals at the Hill’s home.)
His wife had already been walking regularly – years before the pandemic began.
“When I started walking with Joyce, it wasn’t easy – I had to use a cane, going 20 minutes might have required two sit-down breaks,” he said. “I was slow and had knee pain. So that mantra then gave me the boost I needed. The cane was only needed for a week or so. Thirty days after I started, I was walking 45 to 60 minutes without a break and no longer had pain.”
Also, his excess weight started to drop off and now he has postponed by several years the need to have knee replacement surgery.
“My Greensboro orthopedic doctor tells me I’m a poster boy for his admonitions and that he wished I could sit in on most of his patient consultations,” he said.
Joyce already knew the magic effects of the simple act of walking outdoors. Her oncologist at Duke had told her for years that her walking was saving her life.
“Joyce was walking several days a week before the pandemic began, but she ratcheted it up during the pandemic by not missing a day,” Hill said.
The place the two walk most frequently is High Point City Lake Park. They also walk on different segments of the High Point Greenway and Guilford County’s Bicentennial Greenway, and also at Archdale’s Creekside Park.
Hill said that the large picnic shelters at High Point City Lake Park provide a good back-up location to walk when it’s raining hard or when ice pellets are falling.
The photo above is one he posted on Facebook on the one-year anniversary of his walking. It was taken under a picnic shelter at High Point City Lake Park while the rain fell around them.
“I can’t keep up with her power-walking pace, so, when we walk at a park or on a greenway, we make sure to cross paths regularly,” Hill said. “Our goal is a minimum of 40 to 60 minutes of outdoor walking at one time, along with many additional steps throughout the day.”
At a time when fitness crazes and health crazes come and go, it is good to know that the simple, basic and free action– walking in fresh air – is the answer to so many of life’s problems.
Loren and Joyce Hill and Marikay Abuzuaiter just thought that one of the secrets to a good life should not remain a secret anymore.