At 70 years old, retired Chicago police officer and Loves Park resident Philip Szpicki plans to walk 994 miles to all three 9/11 crash sites in an effort to raise money for wounded soldiers.
Szpicki never served in the military, but he refers to his two uncles who did as his heroes. He says he can't help but cry when he sees flag-draped coffins being brought home or hears stories of soldiers who've lost their limbs.
"When I was 5 years old, I remember walking down the street with my mother and her pointing out to me the houses of women who had lost sons in WWII, and that's always stuck with me my whole life," Szpicki said. "It's probably a guilty feeling, because I didn't serve in the armed forces. I didn't answer my country's call."
Szpicki left at 10 a.m. Wednesday from the Victory Memorial in Rockford. He expects his walk to Chicago; the plane crash site in Shanksville, Pa.; Washington, D.C.; and New York City will take 68 days. He'll begin by walking eight hours a day, increasing incrementally until he's walking from dawn until dusk.
Szpicki has partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project, and he hopes to bring attention to the cause with his walk and raise money for the charity that assists injured service members. He doesn't have a fundraising goal but had raised $450 as of this afternoon.
While he walks, Szpicki plans to use social media to update followers on his journey and let them know where he is. The 70-year-old, who recently purchased what he calls his "wonder phone," said that will be his No. 1 challenge.
"The biggest problem I've had with this whole trip is not putting one foot in front of the other. It's getting acquainted with modern technology," he said, noting he's been using body building techniques and power walking with a weighted vest, ankle weights and dumbbells over the past year.
His plans aren't etched in stone, and Szpicki says the trip will include a lot of improvisation. Family members will call 50 to 100 miles ahead of him daily to let municipalities, police departments, veterans facilities and media outlets know he's on the way. As far as where he'll stay each night, that's still up in the air, Szpicki said.
"I'm going to be on Twitter, I'm going to be on Facebook, I'm going to say &(hash)8216;I'm looking for a place to crash," he said. "I might get a hotel. I'm going to have a tent and maybe some stuff to chase bears away."
Szpicki says the biggest downfall to the trip will be missing his wife, two children and seven grandchildren.
"I'll be missing my family," he said. "But I'm kind of excited about it because it's something I've never done. And I'm expecting I'm going to have a lot of experiences I've never had that I never expected to have."
The only thing Szpicki knows for sure?
"I'm not walking back."