By Gordon D. Fielder, The Salina Journal
SALINA (AP) — Dean Bonawitz has run eight marathons, and beginning in early June, he plans to walk eight more by month's end.
Bonawitz plans to hike through Kansas, north to south, from Nebraska to Oklahoma to raise money for cancer research.
"I started out to do this for myself," said the 67-year-old retired Salina police lieutenant.
He had a friend who some years ago attempted the 225-mile north-south trek across Kansas but bailed before he reached Oklahoma.
"I was jealous, at the time," Bonawitz said.
Bonawitz had been a lifelong runner until bad feet and a hip replacement benched him. His doctor told him his running days were over.
"But I could walk all I wanted," he said.
Last year, he decided to attempt his own walk through Kansas, using Kansas Highway 14 as his route of choice.
Two months ago, the thought occurred to him: Why not make the hike financially worthwhile?
Through his law enforcement connections, Bonawitz hooked up with Cops for a Cure, which is overseen by the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
Bonawitz has more than a professional reason for raising money for cancer research. He and his wife, Nancy, are cancer survivors. He's been cancer free since 2007; Nancy, since 2009.
This won't be just any walk, with Bonawitz traipsing down the highway by day and crashing in a motel bed by night.
He'll be carrying his own food, shelter and clothing in a backpack. Except for when he passes through towns and springs for a hot meal, he'll subsist on trail mix, nuts and buffalo jerky.
And water, which could present a problem on long stretches unbroken by civilization because he wants to keep his backpack weight to under 25 pounds. Water weighs about 8 pounds a gallon.
He said he'll start out carrying 16 20-ounce bottles and hopes to be blessed by Samaritans along the way. Already he's alerted sheriff's offices, police departments and the Kansas Highway Patrol of his plans so that he won't be mistaken for a latter-day Weary Willie. He'll also be emblazoned with the Cops for a Cure logo and armed with brochures about his mission and ways to donate.
Even with an after-market hip, Bonawitz is confident of completing the walk because of his fitness past. He ran track in high school and, while on the police force, encouraged his fellow officers to exercise, not just for improving their performance on the job but also as a stress reliever. There were times he would come home and Nancy Bonawitz could tell right away his day had not gone well.
"You need to get your (running) shoes on," she'd say.
"I'd come back after five miles totally relaxed," he said.
Bonawitz hopes to make 15 miles a day, which at a 3 mph pace, will make for five-hour days.
He hopes to finish by June 20, subject to an early June start date.
"I want to start June 4," he said. "If it's raining, then it will be June 5."