Jan Walker, 61, of Knoxville, Tenn., was the first hiker/biker to complete the September 11th (9/11) virtual National Memorial Trail Challenge, where she hiked through a 1,362-mile Smoky Mountain trail in Tennessee, which is comparable to the 1,300-mile, biking, hiking and motor-friendly 9/11 National Memorial Trail that connects the three 9/11 memorial sites via six states and the District of Columbia — Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Walker also completed a cross-country hike from Oceanside, Calif., to Ocean City, Md., in 2016 in support of the 9/11 National Memorial Trail Alliance. The transcontinental walk took seven months through nine states and Washington, D.C. For more information or to donate, go to www.911trail.org.
The 9/11 National Memorial Trail Alliance created the virtual 9/11 Trail Challenge as an outlet during COVID-19 to encourage participants to get outdoors and explore their local trails and greenways by committing to walk, run and/or bike 1,300 miles in their local areas, similar to the 1,300-mile, 9/11 National Memorial Trail (with socially distanced precautions). Although the hiking part of the trail is not fully completed, the 1,300-mile, 9/11 National Memorial Trail is currently connected by off-road and multi-use trails. The not-for-profit 9/11 National Memorial Trail Alliance relies on financial support from donors and grants to further develop and maintain the 9/11 National Memorial Trail.
“The virtual 9/11 Trail Challenge was a labor of love for me. I love being outdoors and also love being able to support and commemorate an important day for our country,” said Walker. “I grew up in the Smoky Mountains and hiking has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.”
In 2016, Walker championed the 9/11 National Memorial Trail cause and decided to walk across the United States, alone, which took about seven months to complete. Beginning in Oceanside, she stopped at hotels and sometimes camped alongside the road through nine states until she ended the journey in Ocean City. Walker helped raise about $5,000 to support the completion of the 9/11 National Memorial Trail Alliance. She endured outdoor temperatures ranging from 20 degrees to 110 degrees and sustained chronic foot injuries.
Walker, a native of Knoxville, became competitively involved in hiking at age 52, when she entered her first 5K race in 2011. She continued competing in long-distance runs/walks, including the 314-mile Vol State Road Race, where she walked through the state of Tennessee (the Volunteer State) in nine days, 10 hours, 11 minutes and 42 seconds. In 2014, she participated in her first Ironman competition in Florida, where she swam 2.4 miles in the ocean, biked 112 miles and ran/walked 26.2 miles, all within 17 hours.
Walker had owned a Knoxville landscaping company with her husband, which has since been sold. She and her husband now reside in Knoxville and Jupiter, Fla.
As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the 9/11 National Memorial Trail Alliance is also working on securing a federal designation for the 9/11 National Memorial Trail to ensure that future generations will have a trail that symbolizes resiliency and serves as a commemorative tribute to the fallen heroes of this country. To support the federal designation initiative, individuals can contact their U.S. congressional representatives and U.S. senators.
ABOUT September 11th (9/11) National Memorial Trail Alliance:
The 9/11 National Memorial Trail Alliance is a not-for-profit organization leading the development of a 1,300-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail connecting the three 9/11 memorial sites with communities in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C.; established in 2002 by its founder and President Emeritus, David Brickley. More than 50 percent of the 9/11 Trail is off-road, and the Alliance has been partnering with federal, state, county and municipal officials on 14 projects to connect more than 30 trails. The route includes New York City’s National September 11th Memorial, the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Va., and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa. The 9/11 National Memorial Trail Alliance is based in New Eagle, Pa., near Pittsburgh. To learn more, go to www.911trail.org/our-history.html, or visit us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.