Irion County Judge Tom Aiken likes to joke that folks who see the SonicPed strapped to the top of his cowboy boot probably think he must have a probation officer monitoring his whereabouts.
The little black ped, clipped tightly to a large rubber band stretched around his boot, counts Aiken’s steps around the courthouse. Each evening, he moves it onto the laces of his athletic shoe to log more strides. From March 2012 to late May of this year, his ped recorded 2,838,145 paces. “That’s like walking over 1,000 miles,” he said.
Aiken ranks first out of 19 Irion County employees logging steps as part of TAC’s Healthy County Sonic Striding program. He ranks 40th out of more than 4,200 statewide participants. His daily average recently topped 9,000 steps.
How does Aiken consistently cover that much ground? While at work he uses a printer on the floor above his office and always takes the stairs to retrieve his documents. He walks whenever he needs to visit the county road crew barn or other county buildings. By the time he’s left work for the day, he’s already logged a mile.
Once at home on his ranch, Prickly Paradise, there’s more ground to cover. First, he feeds his menagerie of horses, donkeys, llamas, cattle, goats, dogs and cats. Then Aiken walks another 3,000 to 4,000 more steps on his 600-acre spread, taking a different route each evening. While trekking he collects fossils, watches wildlife and works out his upper body with isometric exercises using a walking stick.
Staying physically active has always been important to the 69-year-old. He ran track in high school, played football in college, jumped rope 1,000 times a day as a young man, and played regular games of pick-up basketball with the kids in his neighborhood during his late 40s.
Last year, Irion County Treasurer Carolyn Huelster encouraged Aiken and county employees to sign up during the Sonic Boom 8-Week Challenge program pilot. “I walk for the exercise and I’ve always been active,” Aiken said. “Sonic Boom just got me focused on it more.”
A competitive person, Aiken closely monitored his and his co-workers steps online during the challenge and kept wearing his ped after it ended. He and his colleagues enjoy competing against one another and signed up for the Sonic Boom challenge again this year.
“That’s the first thing I do in the morning. I check and make sure it registered,” Aiken said. “During the day I’ll often check to see how far I’ve gone. Sonic Boom has really helped me focus on it and do things I would probably not be doing to get more steps in.”
Aiken, who takes medicine for high blood pressure, said his walking regimen has helped him keep weight off. He measures his blood pressure and pulse rate upon returning from the long walks around his ranch and said those rates return to normal quicker now than when he first started the workouts. “I had a heart stent put in about seven years ago,” he added. “It’s helping me to not have to go back and have that done again.”
Establishing a regular walking routine takes commitment, Aiken said, but once you stick with it for about a month it becomes a habit. “Then if you don’t do it you feel you’re missing something,” he said.
“You should do it for yourself,” he added. “You should also do it for the family and coworkers who depend upon you. It’s not a selfish act to want to get yourself in good health. It benefits all those around you too.”