Capt. Joshua Roe, chief of Tripler Army Medical Center’s Outpatient Nutrition Clinic, earned the 4Days Marches Cross while representing the facility July 19 to July 21, 2022, in the 104th annual 4Days Marches in Nijmegen, Netherlands. This international event, begun in 1909 as a military march to build up soldiers’ stamina, annually draws close to 45,000 military and civilian participants from more than 70 countries. Also known as “The Walk of the World,” the typically 100 mile-walk can credibly be called the world’s largest walking achievement event.
After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the event resumed this year with 42,175 registered walkers, of which 656 came from the United States. Roe participated as a member of the U.S. Army Health Clinic Kaiserslautern’s Kleber Clinic team and is one of the 34,934 walkers from all nations who crossed the finish line. He and the others earned the 4Days Marches Cross medal from the Kingdom of the Netherlands in recognition of exceptional walking skills and stamina.
The organizers of the 4Days Marches stress that it is not a competition. Rather, it is an opportunity to challenge yourself mentally and physically. You also get to interact with other walkers and the hundreds of thousands of individuals from around the world who stand along the route at all hours to cheer you on.
“You get a wrist band that gives you the total time you walked, but you’re not ranked,” Roe says. “If you’re being super-individual about it, you kind of miss the point.”
Roe says he is happy he had an opportunity to apply his medical skills during the walk. “I was trying to feed the walkers that were struggling – those who had never gone through so much walking and sweating.” He says he loaded his pockets specifically with Pop-Tarts at rest stops because they’re easily digested carbohydrates. “Since I had them in my pocket as I went along, [my body heat] warmed them up like a toaster oven,” he adds.
While he says he didn’t suffer from major blisters as most walkers did, Roe says he did have to deal with prickly heat caused in part by the 10-kg pack military males are required to carry. The approximately 22-pound pack is optional for others.
The weather made the walk particularly grueling. This year, the organizer’s cancelled the original first day due to extreme heat. As a result, the participants covered 80 miles in three days.
“There’s a lot of pleasure in participating because it’s so positive,” Roe says, “but also lots of pain.” He says his feet swelled to the point that it felt like he was walking on “painful pillows.” He believes, however, that the pleasure outweighs the pain.
When a mentor told him about the event three years ago, Roe thought rucking 100 miles in four days was “insane.” But when a friend stationed in Germany invited him to join his Kleber Clinic team, Roe reconsidered. He says he received maximum support from the start from his supervisor, who happens to have completed the 4Days Marches twice and saw the event as a “very cool opportunity for me to attempt to push myself.” Roe encourages his colleagues at Tripler to participate in the next 4Days Marches “if you have rucking skills and want to challenge yourself.”