No casual walk in the park for Cheney

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 1, 2001

Debbie Cheney keeps up the pace during one of her early morning walks. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

[03/01/01] Debbie Cheney doesn’t deliver the mail, she just follows the motto.

Come rain, sleet or snow … Six days a week, long before the sun rises, she can be found starting her customary six-mile walk.

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Weather isn’t a factor for the 37-year-old racewalker when the alarm clock buzzes at 4:30 each morning. Many times, she thinks twice before her morning ritual. But a quote attached to her refrigerator gives her the extra inspiration.

“It says, I eat, sleep, train, period,’ ” Cheney said. “It gets me going at 4:30.”

What’s in that refrigerator is a little surprising. Her diet belies her 96-pound frame and stringent workout routine. Potato chips and pasta, lots of pasta, are the menu items of choice. Vegetables are kept away at all costs, she said with a chuckle.

“It must be the walking because I love to eat,” Cheney said. “I am a major junk food person. If I did eat vegetables, it would probably throw my whole system off.”

What doctors and trainers would scoff at certainly has paid off for Cheney. The former Lake Providence, La., resident, who moved to Vicksburg four years ago, earned the Mississippi Track Club’s Grand Prix honor for the open division (20-30-year-olds) for having the most points over the MTC’s 12 events in 2000.

She has also garnered a spot on the National Track and Field Ladder. Walkers have to break a certain time in qualifying meets to earn that honor. Cheney is now fourth nationally in her age group.

In the open division this year, she has 100 points the maximum per race after finishing second overall at the River City Classic in Natchez.

On Saturday, she will look to master her favorite, but toughest course on the circuit: the Vicksburg National Military Park in the Run Thru History.

Cheney’s main competition, Barbara Duplichain, is in the masters division (40-49), which is good news to Cheney.

“Sometimes I get to walk with her, if she’s not having a good day,” Cheney said with a chuckle. “She is amazing. I’m just glad that I am able to have her in sight. The last two years, it’s been within about a minute of her.

“But I like her. She’s my friend and as long as I’m happy with my times at a race, I’m OK. I race my own race.”

In the Natchez race, Duplichain beat Cheney and awful weather by just one second.

“The wind was blowing so hard, I just knew I’d end up back in Vicksburg,” she said with a laugh.

She took second place overall in the RTH a season ago at 26:47, a half minute behind Duplichain.

Although she walks with friends often in the park, she said the race never gets any easier. She moved to Vicksburg from Louisiana partly because of the MTC, but in each RTH, she is reminded of her former state.

“I’ve run this course for six years and it never gets any easier. The hills are still there,” Cheney said. “One day a week, I practice only on the Louisiana Monument (one mile into the race) going up and down the hill. That is the absolute worst hill … If I get over that hill, I think I’ll be OK.”

Most of all, the doctor’s assistant cherishes the friendships of the walkers more than any medals or honors.

“Sometimes it’s eight of us, sometimes two. Sometimes we’ll walk eight miles, we may walk 10, it just depends on how good the conversation is,” Cheney said. “We all have a blast.

“This is like my family. They’re with you during the good times and will pick you up in the bad times. They’re great.”