Born For adventure
The outdoors have always been Walter Dixon’s calling.
As a kid growing up in the bountiful woods of upstate New York, Walter's childhood was largely spent among the trees. The walls of St. James grammar school interested him little - instead, Walter set his sights on the woods and the weekend, when he would hunt, fish, and best of all, camp with his dad.
Not even the bitter cold of New York winters could stop Walter from enjoying the outdoors. Among his favorite memories, he recalls cold, snowy nights rabbit hunting at just eight or nine years old, topped off by a cup of hot cocoa, with Walter tucked in the car alongside his dad on the way home.
"Before we went home, we’d sit in the car… He had a warm thermos of coffee for himself, and a warm thermos of hot chocolate for me. I’d have a cup of hot chocolate and say, ‘what a great day, dad.’ I remember the smell of his wool coat. I’d cuddle up to him, tired out, and lay on his lap on the way home. It was wonderful."
As Walter grew older, the outdoors continued to call his name in new ways. He attended the University of West Virginia to study forestry. He climbed on his first motorcycle, felt the freedom of cruising along the roadway on a warm summer night, and decided his vehicle didn’t need to have walls, big leather seats, or air conditioning - the smell of fresh air blowing past him would do just fine.
Like most folks, Walter’s life as a young adult began to move quickly. He met his future wife on a one-lane road behind the Ranger School he attended - and charmed himself into a date. He took a few jobs, settled in with his wife, and before long, had children of his own. In a fitting connection spanning three generations, Walter was soon teaching his own son to hunt, using the very same bow that Walter used to take his first deer.
“We’d do anything outdoors. Hunting, fishing. My dad would take us camping as boys, and when I had a family of my own, I’d take my wife and kids out camping all the time.”
Through the years, Walter could reliably be found outside. Even on days when there wasn’t time to hunt or fish, he made sure to get outside for a walk and some fresh air.
Then came September of 2019.
Walter noticed a tremor in his left hand - the same one he used to hold his bow and his rifle steady while hunting - and thought something might be wrong. He headed west to Rochester, where he was seen by a specialist who delivered the news: it was Parkinson’s Disease. Fearful of giving up his lifelong passions, the diagnosis deflated Walter.
"I went out of there kind of stunned… I was deflated completely. Sad. I don’t feel like I’m 74 years old. I am, but I don’t feel that way. Mentally, I feel like 54, or 44. I wanted to do everything.”
The impact of Parkinson’s - specifically on Walter’s mobility - made getting outside a difficult challenge. When he went out to hunt, Walter found himself struggling to track deer with his dog. His morning walks, which by now had become routine, became more and more difficult. He struggled with freezing of gait episodes where his feet felt glued to the ground and he couldn't take the next step. Eventually, as Walter began to fall because of his mobility issues, the walks began to feel impossible. Always one to feel younger than his age, Walter’s growing inability to live independently became a point of frustration.
Seeking help, Walter joined Empower Parkinson's, an organization that works to improve quality of life for people with PD. It was there, at an informational seminar, that he first discovered NexStride. Fearful of losing his mobility altogether, Walter decided to give it a try.
“The laser line gives me a target to focus on, and I just take a step towards the line. When I freeze, it gets me started, and it keeps me going”
Using NexStride, Walter is back to doing what he loves.
He has the confidence to get up and move. He attends classes at Rock Steady Boxing - and no longer worries about the steps he takes in between punches. He even travels all by himself.
With NexStride at his side, Walter flew to Tampa Bay to see his beloved Tampa Bay Lightning ice hockey team. He later flew to Reno for an event, and soon found himself in Las Vegas for another hockey game.
More than just mobility - Walter says that NexStride has given him a new mindset.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the things I want to do without NexStride… it comes down to either being in a wheelchair or using NexStride. The NexStride allows me to move to places I wouldn’t be able to without it”
“I’ve got a mindset now where I’m going to be more active. Period.”