78-year-old to tackle Rachel Carson Trail Challenge

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Frank Meacci is preparing to take a hike this weekend — a 34-mile, one-day hike. 

Walking trails in the woods isn’t unusual for the 78-year-old, but the walk he will take on Saturday is the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge, which attracts over 600 runners and hikers who traverse the trail from Harrison Hills County Park to North Park.

In addition to trails through the woods, including those in the two parks, the hike includes about nine miles on roads and asphalt surfaces.

“It is the longest walk I’ve even  attempted,” said Mr. Meacci of Ben Avon. “So far, we have done a little over 20 miles on one of the training hikes.”

At 78, Mr. Meacci is among the oldest hikers attempting the challenge. His fellow hiker, training companion and neighbor, Ted Popovich, is 67. Only a handful of the 600 participants are older than 60, and only four hikers, including Mr. Meacci, are over 70.

“I actually got involved because of Ted,” Mr. Meacci said. “We have illusions of grandeur by trying this.”

A lifelong fitness buff, Mr. Meacci participated in sports when he was growing up. He ran for over 30 years until he retired when he was 70. He was looking for another sport to take up, and Mr. Popovich suggested hiking. When Mr. Popovich decided to hike the 17.5-mile half-challenge last year, Mr. Meacci agreed to go with him.

“The weather was extremely hot and humid, and it took us from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., but we did it. Some of the volunteers were so excited — I think more excited than us,” Mr. Meacci said.

Mr. Meacci worked as a teacher before becoming a licensed psychologist. He has worked as a psychologist at Penn State Beaver and at one of the state prisons. He still has a private practice and serves as a consultant for Geneva College.

In addition to his hiking, Mr. Meacci is an avid fisherman and works out every day in his home gym.

“It’s just a routine,” he said. “I’ve always worked out and never gotten out of the habit.” 

He also enjoys playing basketball with his grandchildren.

To prepare for the steep hills, back roads and long miles of hike on Saturday, Mr. Meacci said he routinely hikes and often climbs the hill behind his home.

“It is quite steep and gives me a good workout,” he said.

In addition to hiking on their own, he and Mr. Popovich have participated in several training hikes offered by the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy.

“He kept moving,” Patty Brunner, conservancy board member and training hike leader, said of Mr. Meacci. “For as tired as he had to be after 18 miles, he didn't complain, he wasn't grumpy, he engaged in friendly conversation and kept moving.” 

Mr. Meacci and Mr. Popovich hope to finish the hike on Saturday, but they will be happy just to participate.

“We will just keep going until we can’t go any more,” Mr. Meacci said.

Finish or not, Mr. Meacci is already serving as an inspiration for the other hikers who have gotten to know him during the training hikes.

“I only hope at his age that I will be just as good as Frank and his friends,” Ms. Brunner said.

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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