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Walking Peorians step into the national spotlight

Pedestrians in Peoria
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Jennifer Jacobsen-Wood and Mary Sue Hosbrough have become celebrity walkers. The two women who made local news by walking every street in Peoria over a two-year period (from 2019 to 2021) were recently the focus of a story in the New York Times.

Since the Times article appeared in March “both Jennifer and I have been inundated with media requests,” said Hosbrough.

The two, friends since second grade, are still walking together. Only now, instead of city streets, the pair have moved on to local parks and trails.

“The rain kept falling, Jacobsen-Wood kept talking and the pair kept walking.” That was part of Scott Hilyard’s 2020 article in the Peoria Journal Star on the walking duo as they were making their way through Peoria—eventually covering all 1,665 streets (identified by CityStrides, the satellite phone app).

Jacobsen-Wood, a librarian with the Peoria Public Library, and Hosbrough, a counselor, continue to walk in all kinds of weather. After all, you can’t cover that many city streets unless you’re dedicated to the cause.

WCBU correspondent Steve Tarter (center) on a recent walk through Springdale Cemetery with Mary Hosbrough and Jennifer Jacobsen-Wood, the Pedestrians in Peoria.
Pedestrians in Peoria
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WCBU correspondent Steve Tarter (center) on a recent walk through Springdale Cemetery with Mary Hosbrough and Jennifer Jacobsen-Wood, the Pedestrians in Peoria.

That cause is walking. “There’s the adventure aspect,” said Hosbrough. “We could think that we’d be walking in a really boring area but there was always something to be seen—whether it was an animal, plant or person or something we didn’t expect or just the fun we were having between the two of us,” she said.

Annabel Streets, a writer who lives in London, England and the author of a new book, “52 Ways to Walk” has done research on the subject of walking.

“I found that there were really good reasons for walking—in different types of weather, at different times of day, but my family was saying, ‘No, that’s not possible.’ It turns out that every different kind of walking activates different parts of our body, different muscles and different parts of our brain. The different neural paths open up when we walk in the dark or when we walk without a map or when we walk at an altitude, for example. So now my family has no reason not to come on a walk with me,” she said.

As for how to walk, Streets says that varies. “Sometimes, amble and listen and look and work on your vision and breathing but, at other times, walk really fast, as fast as you can. The brisk walk is brilliant for re-oxygenating the brain, getting the heart pumping,” she said.

“But when you walk really fast,” noted Streets, “you’re not really listening to the birds or noting the moss growing along a strip of bricks, for example, because you’re busy walking.”

While Jennifer and Mary praised the people they encountered in Peoria—throughout Peoria—they told the New York Times reporter that Peoria was not very walkable—largely due to city sidewalks—or the lack of them.

“A good part of the city doesn’t have sidewalks or where there are sidewalks, they’re very disjointed or so uneven that you’re risking twisting an ankle,” said Jacobsen-Wood.

Along with coming up with a piece of furniture or two, the two women found other things in their march across town: several $20 bills (found by Mary), plenty of dental flossers (mostly found by Jennifer) and a lot of memories.

For more information, follow the pair on their Facebook site, Pedestrians in Peoria.

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Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.