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Love along the trail

‘I’m starting to think there’s more to this than just two people getting together for a walk’

Gary Hillyard and Judy Perchard weren’t looking for love, just fitness, when they each joined the Town of CBS’s Walking for Wellness program. They were surprised to find that life’s path seemed to be drawing them together. Mark Squibb photo.

By Mark Squibb \ May 12, 2023

A Conception Bay South couple have a community walking club to thank for bringing them together.

“In 2018, I was just over 300 lbs, very out of shape, and I had a stroke,” said Gary Hillyard. “And so, I had to make some lifestyle changes. And so, I began to walk. And then I heard about this program for seniors that met weekly, and so I went.”

That program was Walking For Wellness, a free program offered by the Town that helps seniors explore the many trails around CBS. Each session is overseen by group leaders who encourage participants to walk at their own pace and enjoy a time of exercise and social interaction.

And while out walking with the other members, there was also one member of the group that matched his pace, a lady named Judy Perchard, who joined the group in the fall of 2020.

“I had a lot of weight on back in 2019,” said Perchard. “My spouse, Wayne Ralph, passed away in January 2020, six months after we moved here, and then COVID kicked in, so I was holed up in the house, eating whatever. I put on a bit of weight, and that’s when I decided that I had to do something. But of course during COVID there wasn’t much you could do, so I started going for a walk every day. And in the fall of 2020, I heard about ‘Walking for Wellness’ on Twitter.”

As they matched each other’s pace, they would find themselves talking about weather, politics, the news of the day, and, as they began to walk more, a little about themselves.

 “And then we started running into each other around town,” said Hillyard. “Because I would go for a walk pretty well every day, and I would go to the Manuel’s River Trail or somewhere like that, and I would run into her. We got to the point where we exchanged phone numbers, and we would text each other each morning, and ask, ‘Are you walking today? If so, where are you going to go?’”

By the end of 2021 the couple were getting together and walking almost every day.

In June of 2022, the walks turned into something else.

“Last year, on Father’s Day, we went for a little walk, and we had a chat before we started walking, and I said, ‘You know, I’m starting to think there‘s more to this than just two people getting together for a walk,’” said Hillyard. “We were becoming really good friends, and I thought that maybe there was a relationship growing there. So, we said we would check it out to see how it goes.”

The couple say it feels like they were destined to meet.

“We were amazed how many crossovers there were in our paths,” said Hillyard. “We knew a lot of the same people.”

“My daughter’s picture was actually hung in his son’s house,” laughed Perchard. “Go figure, right? Because his daughter-in-law and my daughter were bridesmaids at the same wedding. And of course, we had no idea.”

There were more connections— Judy’s spouse had posed for a Mer’by calendar, an initiative that Gary’s son helped found; they had similar tastes in music; they had both lived in Cowan Heights during the same time frame, and only a few streets apart; one of Judy’s cousins was a friend of Gary’s, and so on.

They even believe that years ago they attended the same funeral.

“Its almost like we were destined to meet somehow,” said Hillyard. “There were so many things driving us toward this eventual meeting. And now here we are… we were destined to meet at some point and time.”

Both Judy and Gary are widowed. Judy’s partner Wayne Ralph died in January of 2020 and Gary’s wife Lynn in February 2021). But neither were looking to begin a new relationship.

“Neither one of us planned on this,” said Gary. “Never in a million years did we think this would happen. Neither one of us was looking for anybody. But it just kind of developed. And we said we would give it a try.”

Once they developed feelings for one another, Perchard said, they knew it was time to act.

“It’s a different thought pattern too, when you’re in your thirties as opposed to when your in your sixties,” said Judy. “You wonder, why are we wasting out time? If we’re going to try it, lets try it. You don’t have forever to make up your mind on these things.”

The couple clearly remember a famous non-date from before they were ‘official.’

“Back in 2019, they announced ZZ Top was coming to Mile One,” said Hillyard. “That’s my favourite band, and thought I would never, ever get a chance to go see them, because it seemed like they generally only toured in the southern States. And I’m not going down to Alabama somewhere to see ZZ Top because it would cost a fortune. So, I bought my tickets, and then of course COVID came in 2020, and it was cancelled. They moved it ahead to 2021. It was cancelled again.”

The concert would be delayed a third time, and by this time Judy and Gary were walking and talking.

He asked a number of other folks first, but everyone he asked either had no interest in ZZ Top, already had tickets, or were one part of a couple.

But there was always Judy.

“So, I said to Judy, ‘Given your likes in music, I guess you’ve got tickets to ZZ Top,’ and she said no,” said Hillyard. “I said, ‘I have these two tickets, I bought them years ago, would you like to go?’ and she said she would. I was kind of half-nervous about it, and I told her, ‘It’s not like a date or anything.’”

“He emphasized that it wasn’t a date,” added Judy. “He said he had asked this one to go, and that one to go, and he said, ‘So, it’s not a date or anything.’”

They still laugh about their ‘Not-a-date’ concert date.

He wouldn’t accept payment for Judy’s ticket, and so instead, Judy bought tickets for their next show together.

Last September they travelled to Toronto to see The Eagles and Elton John, and have since attended a number of local concerts, but by this point it’s pretty safe to call them dates.

Since becoming a couple and moving in together, the pair continue to walk every day, or almost  every day, and together they’re reaching greater distances.

Last year, they did the Tely 10 road race together.

“I never in a million years imagined I would walk as much as I walk now, or be able to do a Tely 10,” said Perchard, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at a young age and never styled herself as much of a walker.

The couple now do a number of local runs together, housing their matching medals in a display case at their Foxtrap home, and have again signed up for this year’s Tely 10.

Recently, they have taken it upon themselves to walk every road in CBS.

The couple were walking along the Manuels River Trail one day when they came across a section of trail that hadn’t been groomed and was thus impassable. And so, they turned up onto Sweetwater Crescent, a nearby neighbourhood that they had never walked before.

As the trails were not accessible, the pair decided to stick to the roads instead.

“We got to wondering, ‘How many streets are in CBS, and could we walk every street?’” said Hillyard. “And so, we went on the Town’s website to find a list, and the only list we could find was the garbage schedule.”

The couple marked off 20 or so streets they had already walked together, and began walking the ones they hadn’t.

“We would average, some days, 17 or 18 streets if they were shorter,” said Gary. “Days where we walked longer streets, we might only walk seven or eight streets.”

From the Woodstock to Seal Cove, they’ve walked every street, lane, road, alley in CBS.

“The only thing we didn’t walk on were private lanes,” added Perchard.

Excluding streets they had already done, it took the couple 38 days to complete the list.

“We walked 481 streets, 284.7 kilometres, so that’s an average of 7.49 kilometres a day, over 38 days. I’m a bit taller than Judy so my pace is different. She generally walks a lot more steps on the same walk, but my FitBit recorded 353,455 steps in 38 days,” said Hillyard. “We could for sure get jobs as taxi dispatchers now.”

They joke that they’ve seen all of CBS— the good, the bad, and the ugly.

They add there’s plenty of nice areas to walk in town, especially if you can find flat land. To that end, they have awarded Sylvia’s Place off Anchorage Road as the steepest hill in CBS.

Both look forward to participating in Walking for Wellness again this summer and encourage others to get out and give it a try.

“I can’t speak for all seniors,” said Perchard. “But a lot of seniors don’t get out a lot. So, it’s a good opportunity to get out and meet other people, and get outside…you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving the program a try.”

“And the great thing about this program is that it’s free, you don’t have to register, you don’t have to sign up, you don’t even have to give out your name,” added Hillyard.

The six-week summer program begins May 17 and runs each Wednesday until the last session on June 21, which will conclude with a with a walk along the T’railway followed by a boil up.

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