30,000 Walk Bridge

Published in 2014 by The St. Ignace News

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More than 30,000 people attended the 57th annual Mackinac Bridge Walk Monday, September 1, and completed the five-mile trek from St. Ignace to Mackinaw City. Some traveled from as far as California, Colorado, and Alaska to participate.

“Talk about a Pure Michigan day!” Governor Rick Snyder said to the walkers assembled for the 7 a.m. start time, commenting on the cool, clear weather. “What a great state this is, and what prettier way to see it?”

Gov. Snyder led the walk behind a color guard, though several walkers pulled ahead quickly as the sun rose over Mackinac Island to the east.

The governor’s pace was partially dictated by Pi, a four-foot-tall robot designed to accompany the governor on his journey across the bridge by high school FIRST Robotics Competition team 1718, The Fighting Pi, from the Macomb Academy of Arts and Sciences in Armada.

Students began building the robot in June and finished construction during the last week of August, but they eventually want to add LED lights to the bottom “to give it an under-glow,” said Natalie Wieber, a junior on the team

Pi is the largest robot the team has built, weighing more than 120 pounds and they designed it to look like their mascot, an anthropomorphized pi symbol with boxing gloves and a missing tooth.

Students particularly enjoyed the challenge of powering a robot for such an extended period of time. They eventually settled on a system of six batteries that can be recharged by a solar panel mounted on its base.

“We brought a couple back up batteries, too, just in case,” said team member Zach Mroz.

Walkers began lining up in the dark hours. Paula Strouse of Ashley arrived around 4:45 a.m. and found people were already in line. For her, the much-anticipated walk was the highlight of a five-day Great Lakes vacation.

“I’ve heard there’s such an energy out there, I wanted to feel it,” she said.

The walk began after the Mackinac Bridge Labor Day Run, a noncompetitive and untimed event that got underway with four hand cyclists at 6:40 a.m. and continued with 500 runners at 6:45 a.m. The runners were staggered in two-minute flights and selected by lottery from a pool of runners who competed in state running events this past year.

his year’s hand-cyclists were McKayla Hanson of Davison, Bryan Wilkinson of Howell, Doug Finkbeiner of Saginaw, and Ken Ashard of Roscommon.

Mr. Finkbeiner is in his eighth year of cycling at the event, inspired by the rising sun and an opportunity to interact with fellow athletes.

“The support here is incredible,” he said. This year, while still on the bridge, a chain came off his cycle. He fixed it with the help of a National Guard member on the bridge, but until the cycle was fully repaired, passing runners kept pausing to see if they could help, he said.

“A lot of people wanted to just push me across and I had to keep them away,” he said. “They’re just great, though, very supportive.”

Ms. Hanson, a Paralympic hopeful who lost her right leg to bone cancer when she was seven years old, crossed the bridge with a handcycle for the first time after competing in a triathlon at Boyne City.

Mr. Wilkinson has participated three or four times and recruits other disabled athletes to the event.

“Sometimes we get big groups and other years are small,” he said. “This year is small, but it still shows that people with disabilities can really be athletes.”

ay Briggs of Lee Summit, Missouri, attended the walk with friends.

As he walked across the bridge, he shook the hand of every Michigan National Guard member lining the bridge, even though it meant standing on the median to avoid a Mackinac Bridge Authority service truck and walking on the grating for most of the five miles.

“I try to shake every soldier’s hand,” he said. “I appreciate our troops. I’m a veteran myself and it’s nice to give back.”

Many participants asked to shake hands with the troops stationed on the bridge, said Guardsman Matt Scheltema. Even more called out “thank you” as they passed.

Although he never made the walk before, he’s thinking about doing so after assisting with it.

“My grandmother used to make the walk, but I’ve never done it before” he said. “The view is great and the people are interesting. There was a couple in Star Trek Uniforms and then two girls dressed up as Mario and Luigi with mustaches and everything. Just very interesting.”

At the finish line, May Granger of Cheboygan handed out certificates commemorating the walk to the participants. She has volunteered at the event with a group of friends and acquaintances for the past seven years. She and her husband were married in 1957, the same year the bridge opened, and began volunteering at Mackinac Bridge events on their 50th anniversary.

The Mackinac Bridge Walk is a family affair for many of the participants.

Brothers Nathan and C. J. Orlando, both of Novi, attend the event with their parents, extended family, and any close friends who want to join them.

“I think we’re up to about 60 or 70 now,” said Nathan, “if you count both the hotel and the campground crew with the extended relations.”

The family tradition began 41 years ago when their mother and uncles were camping in the area. They walked the bridge that year and invited their parents along the next year.

“We’ve been coming ever since,” Patricia Orlando, their mother, said, “and as long as there is a bridge walk, we’ll keep coming.”