The “Plucky Pedestrian” Takes His Final Walk

May 29, 1933

Daniel O’Leary, a world champion pedestrian athlete, died in Los Angeles at the age of 91. “O’Leary’s heels were his fame while the rest of the world took to wheels,” stated an Associated Press account the following day. “Many of the marks he set for long distance walking still stand as a challenge to others.”

O’Leary, whose nicknames included the “Plucky Pedestrian,” was born in the Irish seaside town of Clonakilty. He made his way to the United States when he was 19 and ended up living in Chicago. O’Leary was working as a bookseller in that city when he first took up walking as a sport. He attracted widespread prominence when he established a new record by walking 500 miles (804.7 kilometers) in only five days, 21 hours, 31 minutes, and 50 seconds.

O’Leary became as one of the most formidable and popular walkers to compete during the heyday of pedestrianism in the 19th century. He won pedestrian races not only throughout the United States but also in such countries as Canada, France, England, Australia, and his native Ireland. O’Leary even earned the prestigious gold-and-silver Astley Belt, an award that was given to the “Long Distance Champion of the World.”

O’Leary’s achievements included outwalking the equally celebrated Edward Payson Weston, who was one of his fiercest competitors and known as the Father of Modern Pedestrianism, in six-day matches in Chicago in 1875 and London in 1877. Another one of O’Leary’s major accomplishments took place in Cincinnati when he was 66 when he successfully walked a mile (1.6 kilometers) at the start of each hour for 1,000 consecutive hours to disprove medical theories that nobody could survive such a severe physical strain. “I never stay in one place long enough to get stale,” O’Leary once said. “Life is always fresh to me. That is my secret.”

Additional information on Daniel O’Leary is available at https://www.popmatters.com/180679-pedestrianism-when-watching-people-walk-was-americas-favorite-specta-2495669714.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1.

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