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Vol. LXIV, No. 16
August 3, 2012

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NIH Volunteer Sarah Colon Walks the Walk

(Second story in an occasional series on NIH’ers who embrace alternative commuting modes)
Sarah Colon Walks the Walk

Think for a moment—how far would you trudge to get your hair cut? For Sarah Colon, a research study volunteer at the Clinical Center for the past decade, 8 miles each way isn’t too far. In fact, it’s “a walk in the park.”

When Colon wants to get a trim, she is obliged to walk or ride her bike. The Chevy Chase resident, in her late 40s, doesn’t own a car. Never has. Probably never will. And she doesn’t miss it.

“I was in driver’s education class in high school when I asked myself, ‘Why do we have to have a car?’ So I took the challenge then [at age 16] to see if I could get through life without an automobile. So far I’ve made good of this. If I’m not walking somewhere, I’m riding my bicycle,” she said. “It’s just so energizing. And I don’t really see the need for a car.”

She added that the Washington, D.C., area makes it easy to get by without a vehicle. If Colon needs to get deep into the District, chances are she’ll cycle in via the Capital Crescent Trail. Or she might walk, as she does to Potomac and back, when she visits the hairdresser.

Colon explains, “We’ve been walking for thousands of years, but only driving in relatively recent times. We really don’t have to drive everywhere. Walking or biking is a great activity and it really lifts my mood. It’s energizing and my brain seems to work better when I walk, though I don’t know why.”

Unlike many folks, the NIH volunteer doesn’t listen to music when she hits the pavement. But she’s used her ambling time wisely. While living in Japan years ago, flashcards became her walking partner, helping her master the language. During additional foot ventures, she has learned or memorized the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Buddhist precepts and all of her speeches for the Toastmasters Club.

Look out your office window and you may see Colon walking or riding her bike to and from the Clinical Center, as she frequently participates in clinical studies. She freely admits, however, that walking, as much as she relishes it, can cause the occasional, perhaps even painful, setback. “You have to keep an eye out for those telephone poles—I’ve bumped into a few of them over the years.”

Still, the advantages of traveling by foot for Colon are numerous. “I never thought about the freedom I have as a result of walking, but it’s definitely a benefit in terms of a more efficient brain, as well as cost savings. Plus, you don’t contribute to air pollution. I can’t imagine ever owning a car,” she concluded.—Jan Ehrman

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