Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Walking man's goal: Great Wall

By William A. Weathers
The Cincinnati Enquirer

RIPLEY - What do you do for an encore after gaining worldwide acclaim by becoming the first person to walk solo around the world?

Steve Newman walks his dog, Gabe.
(Gary Landers photo)
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How about attempting to be the first person to walk the entire length of the Great Wall of China? That's the next planned walking adventure 48-year-old Bethel native Steven M. Newman has in his sights.

"We're pretty sure no one has ever walked the entire length of the Great Wall," Newman said recently from his hilltop home on a 25-acre wooded site just outside Ripley in Brown County.

The only thing that could keep the project from happening, Newman said, is the price tag: $10 million.

But a recent development - the tentative commitment of a major corporate sponsor - has the project looking like a "go,"he said.

"I'm very, very optimistic," said Newman, who walked more than 15,000 miles through five continents and 23 countries during his world walk from April 1983 to April 1987.

If it happens, his historic walk on the 2,100-mile length of the Great Wall will be filmed and made into a six-part documentary for television.

"We'll be over there about eight months," said Newman, who will be expedition leader. "I'll be narrating the documentary. It's an exciting project. Our goal is to start in April 2004."

Some of his Chinese contacts have warned the Ohio University graduate that he will be facing extreme heat and sandstorms in the Gobi Desert, high altitude, cold and thin air in the mountains, and thick, overgrown areas crawling with some of the world's most poisonous snakes.

"Some areas we will be exploring have been off limits to the outside world since 1949," Newman said, "and those living there have never met Americans."

The climax of Newman's China walk will be cause for celebration.

"At the end of the journey we plan to have a concert broadcast live with the largest fireworks display ever," he said. "It will we a great prequel to the 2008 Olympics."

Chinese officials have been putting out the welcome mat to tourists in a prelude to Beijing hosting the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. In the January 2003 edition of National Geographic, author Peter Hessler wrote about his recent experience of driving through the villages and countryside alongside the Great Wall.

The Great Wall expedition is the brainchild of Robert Cohen, who in 1957 became the first American allowed to film in China after the Communist takeover in 1949, Newman said. Cohen was able to film scenes of some sections of the wall being rebuilt but was forbidden to travel its length. He spent the subsequent half century seeking permission to walk and film the entire length of the wall, and only recently got the go-ahead. A friend of Cohen's recommended Newman as expedition leader.

Is the veteran "professional walker" in shape for the walk?

"I've never had any problems. I'm a natural walker," said the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Newman, who weighed 130 pounds when he started his world walk in April 1983.

Newman's historic walk has been the cornerstone for his unique career as a professional walker. Since returning home, he has made a comfortable living walking, writing and talking about walking.

"They're paying me for what I love to do best - travel and explore," Newman said.

"I probably do 50 (speeches) a year," he said. "I have speeches scheduled in Australia and Japan. I've done it 2,300 plus times, and there are times when I say, `I've heard this story before.'"

Newman also has a sports shoe and apparel line in Japan. The trademark is The WorldWalker.

His walking also helped him meet his wife, Darci, a junior high school special education teacher. She had read his book, was intrigued by it and a friend suggested she write to Newman. Their subsequent correspondence eventually led to dating and marriage.

Since 1987, between his writing and speeches, Newman has continued walking. In the fall of 1987 he started a four-month, 2,000-mile walk all over Japan. He was invited by a wealthy Japanese businessman "who was upset he didn't include Japan in his tour." The businessman agreed to finance the Japan walk if he would promise to share his experiences with American schoolchildren, Newman said.

In October 2000, Newman walked in Taiwan, and he walked in South Korea in June and July of 2001.

Once his professional walking days are over (he and Darci will always have their daily neighborhood walks), Newman hopes to make a vocation of recounting his travels.

"My plan is teach college and be a professor. What better way to take all that knowledge and share it."

Newman has literally come a long way since he ran a 2:45 marathon as a 16-year-old track star at Bethel-Tate High School - an excellent time that qualified him to run in the Boston Marathon. Back then, Newman would have wagered that his running - not his walking - would play a major part in his future.

Those interested in Newman's exploits can visit his Web site: www.theworldwalker.com. Once plans for the Great Wall Expedition are finalized, a special Web site will provide updates: www.greatwallexpedition.com.

E-mail bweathers@enquirer.com

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