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Getting fit at the mall

Dozens walk corridors of shopping center

STERLING – There's no cutting corners at Northland Park Mall – at least for the walkers.

If you walk around the mall three times, it's a mile. But that means walking into each corner.

The mall opens for walkers at 9 a.m., an hour before stores open.

On a recent Wednesday, snow was falling outside. Dozens of walkers waited in their cars for the doors to open. By 9:20 a.m., more than 40 people were walking the mall's corridors.

Some hung their jackets on benches. Nearly all wore gym shoes. Most were senior citizens, but a mom with a stroller was among them. A few older men socialized at tables near the mall's main entrance.

Sterling resident Barb Quick, in her mid-40s, started walking every Wednesday when she was pregnant 19 years ago. Wednesdays are popular for mall walking; that's when Mercy Nursing Services offers blood pressure screenings.

On the recent Wednesday, she was with her parents, Maxine and Benny Fenn, in their 80s, and her 18-year-old daughter, Kris. They walk a mile. Her father uses a cane.

"We've been here through remodeling, change of management, a flood," Quick said. "We just keep coming."

Lee Chavez, 73, a part-time custodian at the Sterling Coliseum, has walked the mall for a decade. He's seen many of the same people over the years.

Chavez, who walks 3 miles a day Monday through Friday, does so for his health. He has had open heart surgery and was treated for leukemia.

"My doctor told me to walk," he said. "It's good for me."

Margie Fornero, a licensed practical nurse, is one of the two Mercy employees who conduct blood pressure checks. She's done so more than 15 years.

Years ago, she said, the mall attracted even more walkers when Woolworths and Walgreens were still there.

Sterling Park District's Westwood recreational center charges $5 to walk or run around the track. It costs a little less if you get a 15- or 30-day punch card.

Larry Schuldt, the district's executive director, acknowledges the fee means many people choose to walk at the mall at no charge.

Karyn Brouilette, Northland's general manager, said mall walking has been steady in her 5 years there. The walkers are faithful, she said, showing up at the mall even in a big snowstorm.

For Quick, mall walking is a family tradition.

"Anyone is welcome to join us. It's warm, with even surfaces to walk on and no cars to worry about."

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