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Walk to raise awareness for boating safety makes a splash

Published: Monday, May 20, 2013 12:00 p.m. CDT

One year ago, on May 19, 2012, four young adults, Jacob Boyd, Caitlyn Atchley, Blake Eakins, and Matthew House, drowned in the Mississippi River after two jon boats collided.  One year later, Zach Boyd, Jacob (Jake) Boyd’s brother, decided to walk across Iowa, wearing a life jacket, in memory of the four victims and to promote boating safety.  It was a daunting task, but Zach was determined that if he could get the message across to just one person about the importance of wearing life preservers and following safety rules of the river, his trip would be worth it.

He would start his walk at Pacific Junction, Iowa, on the Missouri River, and finish it at Port Burlington on the Mississippi.  He would start on Sunday and finish it one week later on Sunday, May 19th, in time for a memorial service and dedication of a granite bench in memory of the drowning victims.  Zach checked with the parents of the other three victims, and they all agreed that the walk was for a worthy cause.

A Facebook address was set up, facebook.com/zachwallksiowa.  As word spread, messages of encouragement began pouring in.  The news media picked up the story and Zach’s walk across Iowa went viral.  NBC, MSNBC, Fox News, The Des Moines Register and many other news outlets were reporting the story.  In the first couple of days, the Facebook page had over 3,000 messages.  Zach took a big gulp.  There was no turning back.

A friend, Ben Miller, from Des Moines, would shuttle gear, food and water back and forth to Zack as he made his trek across the state.  In that manner, Zach would be able to travel lightly.  He planned to camp in roadside parks along the way.  On the back of his life jacket were the words “Jake, Matt, Caitlyn, Blake.”

Zach is 28 years old and a student at Southeastern Community College studying to be a firefighter.  With his busy schedule, he did not have time to train for the long-distance walk.

On Sunday, May 12, Mother’s Day, Zach could tell his feet and legs were going to give him problems.  Walking on the side of US Highway 34, the gravel made it difficult to walk.  He changed his socks often, from the 20 pairs he had brought with him.

On Monday, his feet blistered so badly, he could hardly walk.  Communicating by cell phone and email, his dad, John Boyd, and Ben Miller, “called an audible.”  They changed the trip to “Zack walks (and bikes) Iowa.”

Tuesday in Western Iowa saw temperatures and humidity in the high nineties.  Zach was flying along on his bike, making great time.  He had peddled 26 miles when he heard and felt something pop in his knee.  Excruciating pain shot through his leg, knocking him off the bike.  Zach laid by the road for about ten minutes trying to decide what to do.  Finally he called his dad.  His dad called the sheriff and his brother, Zach’s uncle, in Des Moines.  The sheriff found Zach almost immediately.  Zach’s uncle picked him up in Corning and drove him home to Burlington.  Zach has a sprained knee, sprained meniscus, and pinched nerves in his back; also severe sunburn and blistered feet.  But no surgery will be required, just rest.

Of course, Zach feels bad that he was not able to complete his walk but, judging from the overwhelming response on Facebook, he has nothing to regret.  His goal of honoring those who drowned and raising the awareness of boating safety was accomplished.

His brother would have approved.

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