The 80,000-meter march

John F. Kennedy challenged his nation to perform great feats, the most famous of which involved sending men to walk on the moon and return to tell other Earthlings about it.

One of his lesser-known goals as US president was to improve the nation’s health by challenging citizens to go on excruciatingly long walks: afraid that Americans were becoming ‘soft’ due to increased leisure time and automation, he promoted the idea of testing one’s physical fitness by walking 50-miles (80km) in under 20 hours. And so the ‘Kennedy March’ was born. The craze eventually spread from the US to Europe, and by 1963 had reached the small Dutch town of Sittard, where it’s an annual event till this day. 

Being a person of reasonable fitness and unreasonable optimism, I jumped at the chance to test my endurance, Kennedy-style, during the Easter holiday. At the starting line at 5 a.m. on that fateful day it hit me: I’m about to attempt to walk a month’s worth of morning jogs in one day, without prior training. Is this positive thinking or plain stupidity?

Anyway, the line was cut to sounds of a marching band and we began our journey. The first 15km were a breeze: my companions were energetic, talkative, the air fresh, the scenery beautiful. Residents along the march route came out to cheer us on. The crowd of 3000 walkers was still dense at this point, and its demographics surprising: people of all ages, weights and fitness levels had joined the march. 

The next two 10km-stretches started hurting, but I still managed to stop and smell the flowers along the way. Around the 20-km mark an old basketball injury in my ankle started nagging, and at 30km I started feeling the dreaded shin splints, but I was confident I could walk it off. 

Meanwhile, blisters on my feet seemingly grow in number and size exponentially, as the sun blazes overhead. People start shedding clothes, discarding empty water bottles. I’m out of water, bathed in my own salty perspiration, wading through the dust with the remains of the zombie-like crowd. At a rest stop a nurse pops my blisters. Stepping off the bunk feels like walking on razorblades. The temptation to quit the walk is great, but having walked 53km, the last 27km don’t seem that bad. 

The next stretch feels like hell. All I can think is, why? Why put myself through agony for some meaningless goal? Spectators cheer me on but I just want them to shut up and disappear. I feel no pain, thirst or hunger. I’ve disconnected my lower body from my mind and my only goal is to keep walking: don’t slow or stop, just press on. Tears stream down my face, I want to give up, but I’ve got a distance to walk and must do it alone.

I’d love to say that that’s how it ended, that I pressed on, finishing the walk, but 11km from the finish line my legs finally gave out. I was officially out of walk. An aide approached me. I wanted to ask where I could catch a bus to Sittard, or get an extra plaster for my bleeding feet, but all that came out was: ‘When is the next Kennedy march?’


Het doek was onderverdeeld in 144 kleine stukjes die uiteindelijk één geheel vormden. De eerstejaars studenten wilden op deze manier een record vestigen, in het kader van het dertiende lustrum van studievereniging VSV ‘Leonardo da Vinci’.
De studenten zouden hun naam geen eer aan doen als ze niet vervolgens vanuit een vliegtuig een foto hadden gemaakt van het kunstwerk.


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