Raymond Arke | News Editor
The drive from Pittsburgh to Erie is a long one, but imagine walking it. For a small group of veterans, including one Duquesne student, this is what they plan to do next weekend. Anthony Powell, a veteran and graduate student at Duquesne, will be participating in the 40th Annual March for Diabetes which stretches 100 miles from Erie to Pittsburgh and raises money and awareness for diabetes research.
Powell retired from the Army after 22 years and is pursuing a Master’s degree in teaching English as a second language. He has participated in the march for the past few years and had originally heard about the walk second hand.
“I heard some people talking about it at a local VFW, and I got interested in the challenge and interested in helping and supporting the veterans as much as I possibly can,” he said.
Powell said the veterans that participate in the event are “good people.”
“You’re with a really good group of guys, a really select group who would sacrifice themselves to do something like [the walk]. You really get to know them the three days,” Powell said.
The organizer of the four-decade-long tradition is Bob Madera, a resident of McCandless, Pennsylvania and a Vietnam War veteran, where he served as a helicopter repairman. Madera was inspired to start the event after his daughter was diagnosed with diabetes at age five.
“I thought we got to get some money in here if we’re going to find a cure,” he said.
Since he participated in the March for Dimes charity walks, Madera thought about doing something bigger.
“I wondered if we could put a long walk together,” he said, finally deciding a route from Erie to Pittsburgh because he remembered how long of a ride that felt as a child growing up.
Madera explained that usually six or seven veterans do the walk each year. The number is small so as to keep the cost of hotel rooms and food along the route low. It is also a long way to walk, something that participants have to be prepared for. Not everyone can make it all 100 miles.
“[The walkers] keep a pretty fast pace … You got to be ready,” Madera said.
The event has been successful in the past, raising nearly $40,000 last year.
According to Madera, diabetes is a struggle that many veterans face. He is the Chairman for diabetes for the Pennsylvania branch of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
“Twenty-five percent of veterans have diabetes … It’s starting to hit home that a lot of [veterans] have it,” he said.
The walk has had its fair share of heart-warming moments. Madera recounted a story from one of the walks, where a grandfather had brought his 14-month grandson who had been diagnosed with diabetes to the finish. The grandfather handed his grandson over to Madera to carry across the end line. Madera said the grandson is now 30 and doing well.
He also had good things to say about Powell, who Madera said has participated in four walks and has done a lot of work promoting the event.
“He’s really been a great guy,” Madera said.
Don Accamando is the director of Duquesne’s Office of Military and Veteran Students. He had heard about the march before, mostly from working with Powell.
“Anthony worked with the Office of Military and Veteran Students for several years as a VA Work Study candidate while working on his undergraduate degree. He would share his experiences of past walks with me,” Accamando said.
Accamando explained how important the awareness of the diabetes problem is.
“When you’re in the military you have just about every need taken care of because, guess what, you’re focusing on one thing, that is the mission. Now when you’re out you struggle to find ways to take care of yourself,” he said.
He said that he’s inspired by the different service activities veterans continue to do.
“I continue to marvel at the outpouring of support offered by veterans who having served their country in the armed services, and continue to serve their communities in other meaningful ways,” Accamando said.
He said that Tony is a great example of how veterans always look to serve.
“They continue to serve after they left the service and [Tony] is the epitome of that. This guy continues to give back,” Accamando said.
According to Accamando, there are 209 veterans registered at Duquesne this semester.