Going the Distance
“Almost everyone can exercise and maintain a good fitness routine.” In her signature pink, Senator Addie Eckardt is a vision of health and longevity, but her fitness routine is not for the faint of heart — it’s all about going the distance.
As a Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist with Easton Hospital, a former marathoner and a current spin class instructor at the Dorchester YMCA, the septuagenarian is very familiar with the importance of a balanced life and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Well-known throughout the Mid-Shore for her dedication to improving communities through her various roles, she is also committed to maintaining her health and reaching new goals.
“Almost everyone can exercise and maintain a good fitness routine,” Addie says. “They need a good coach and a goal to keep reaching up to the next level.”
When her children were young, Addie worked as an R.N., during which time a colleague started the Easton Running Club, encouraging Addie to join. She admits that she had never been a runner.
“I’d read about it and think about it — thought about what it would take to start running,” she said.
Life circumstances — her growing knowledge of the activity and the support of her friends and family — all pointed to go. At that time (“somewhere in the ‘70s” she laughs) Addie’s kids were young and full of energy, and she knew that this type of vigorous exercise would help with temper control and weight management, she said, instilling healthy habits and behaviors at a young age.
“I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can do this,’” she said.
Addie started running barefoot, she said. “I’d walk a mile, and then I’d walk another mile, and you know, after you walk enough it’s like, now let’s run a little bit.”
At the same time, she was part of the Choptank River Run, assisting in the organization of the fundraiser from which the proceeds are donated to the American Cancer Society.
“I ended up running the River Run and finished it,” Addie said. “Once you finish a race and you do better than you think you’ll do, it’s easy to keep going.”
She stepped up her distances from 5K to 10-mile runs, and consistent with her goal to keep reaching the next level, decided it was time to start training for marathons.
Amongst the many marathons Addie completed, her strength and perseverance to her through the Marine Corp Marathon, the Independence Relay and the Lady Equitable in D.C. Her next goal was to run the Boston Marathon.
Unfortunately, Addie wasn’t able to get Boston under the soles of her sneakers or notched into her sweatband due to back issues that were worsening with the high impact of distance running. Back surgery finally took her completely out of the race.
“One doctor said if I didn’t stop, I would be paralyzed,” she remembered. But working with a nurse practitioner, Addie learned how to keep her core abdominals and back muscles strong, as well as maintaining a healthy weight to minimize the risk of permanent damage and a debilitating disability.
“That was all long before I ever started thinking about biking,” Addie said.
After the surgery, Addie would walk for the same amount of time that she used to run, she said, “and that’s when it got real boring.”
Luckily, at that time, the director of the Dorchester YMCA was a neighbor and wanted to start a cycling program, Addie said.
“Spin class was low impact and you learn how not to hurt yourself on a bike, pace yourself and ease back into it.”
With the spin class experience and miles on the elliptical machine, Addie decided it was time to set a new fitness goal. True to her self-challenging persona, she opted to take spin class to the great outdoors and bought a road bike.
“We had always biked with our kids,” she said. “We’d put on backpacks and bike around town, but it never occurred to us to do serious biking.”
By this time, her children we no longer small and both were biking in college. In fact, one of her son’s actually biked across the entire state of Maryland, she said.
“I thought, ‘I guess I could do that,’” she laughs. “I could try this, but of course, I’m not a young chicken and you have to be prepared to fall — and you do – and when you fall and learn you’re not going to break things, you can learn how to do it.”
As her outdoor riding distances increased, so did her responsibility to her spin class. In need of an instructor, the group stepped up to the plate and each took turns leading the group. This kept her not only taking the class, but also looking into new routines, and staying current on cycling instruction and technique. She now regularly teaches the 5 a.m. Monday morning class at the Dorchester YMCA in Cambridge.
For the last few years, Addie has organized her own long-distance ride — the Tour de Shore. This annual biking event is a four-day adventure including a showand-tell on history, agriculture, environment, industry, community issues, all combined with approximately 40 to 50 miles of biking along the beautiful farmlands and waterways of the Eastern Shore.
“It’s not a race,” she says. “It’s for people who want and who like to do 60 miles. But the challenge for this is doing it back-to-back.”
While her relatively small group of riders are not required to do all four days, each day takes the bikers to the four counties in Addie’s legislative district — Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico — but it’s not a political thing or a fundraiser, she said. It’s just about highlighting the great things to see and do on the Eastern Shore.
“That’s one nice thing about biking — there’s enough time to have conversation while you’re biking,” she said. “We ride for 20 miles and stop to see something briefly, and then we’ll ride 20 more miles and do something else.” The stops are planned and gracious local hosts sometimes provide drinks, snacks and are at the ready with an interesting presentation.
Recently Addie has opted to make the rides roundtrips, eliminating the need for transport back to the staring point, but all four days are supported rides, meaning that vehicles are available to carry passengers and bikes if assistance in required.
Or in the case of one of Addie’s first long-distance rides, the vehicles were available for ferrying services.
“At Shorters Wharf, we came down and we just stopped — it was water as far as we could see,” Addie said. “And I thought, ‘oh, no problem, it’s just a little bit of water. We’ll just take off our shoes and carry them and carry our bikes.’”
But there was no way — the water was deeper, wider and longer than any of the riders predicted and they quickly realized they were not going to down the flooded road on foot. “There were fish swimming across the road,” Addie laughs.
All of the riders were able to be ferried along the milelong stretch of flooded roadway in the attending pickup truck. “All the while. The bald eagles were circling,” she says, “so that was an adventure.”
No matter what part of her life she is talking about, Addie sees her training as a basis to push herself forward to the next level, always going the distance for her family, her constituents, her community and her self.
“All of that training was very helpful,” she said. “And also very helpful in running for office because I had never done anything like that before either. So if I can train for a marathon, I can run for political office. I can do anything!”
Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore hosts her annual Eastern Shore bicycle tour each August.
Race marshall Randy Thompson, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, and Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-MidShore, are pictured before the start of the Great Chesapeake Bay Wellness Race held in Cambridge.
Nine-year-old Owen Fisher helps Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley and Del. Addie Eckardt, R-37B-Dorchester, seed the new artificial reef with living oysters in the Choptank River in Cambridge.