Nearly every morning since 1997, the now 88-year-old Robertson has laced up her sneakers and walked at least 2 miles with the Williamsburg Department of Recreation Walking Club at Quarterpath Recreation Center. Within the next few weeks, she will have clocked 6,000 miles.
“People tell me that I am an inspiration, but it is just me,” she said. “When I started doing this, it was just to get out and to get around people.”
Now the routine is the most important part of her day, and something she attributes to her good health. “The doctors tell you that nothing is more healthier than walking,” she said. “They don’t tell you how fast or slow to walk. At times, I walk faster. Sometimes I walk slower. But I plan to keep this up.”
Robertson is part of a group of people who regularly walk at the center. Some mornings there are only three people. Sometimes there are more than a dozen. Robertson is generally one of them.
“She is very dedicated, she is here every day with a smile on her face,” said Amy Holman, a senior secretary at the center. “We are always happy to see Ms. Irene. I hope that I can accomplish that when I am her age. She is an inspiration for so many people here.”
“This lady is an inspiration to all of us,” echoed Chico Watanabe, one of the club members who regularly keeps apace with Robertson. “I have been walking here for ten years, and she was here before me. We have a large walking group that gets here at 8 a.m., and we always say that we hope we are walking like her when we are her age.”
Last year, Robertson had a knee replacement. That presented challenges to her walking routine. Watanabe said the group members wondered if Robertson would be able to spring back.
“We were very concerned,” she admitted. “But after she had the surgery and rehab, there she came— walking in the door.”
“Irene is very dedicated to walking,” said Lori Rierson, director of Williamsburg Department of Parks and Recreation. “If the building is closed for any reason, Irene is outside doing her laps. She very rarely misses a day.”
And if she does, there are many who call to check up on her.
“There are some very nice people in the group,” Robertson said. “When I was in the hospital, they came to see me. When I turned 85, they gave me a surprise birthday party. You don’t get that all the time.’
Rierson said the club was formed to give people a place to walk, free of charge in a climate-controlled atmosphere. There is special flooring that was designed to lessen the impact on joints. Music is played for the walker’s enjoyment. In the course of the five hours designated for walking each day, up to 30 people can show up to do laps.
Robertson, said she can’t imagine a day without her walking comrades. “If I get up in the morning and I am drowsy, I come here,” she said with a small laugh. “And when I leave, I am on Cloud Nine.”