Walking for a great cause

MARQUETTE – Neil Sauter got a lot of looks as he walked through downtown Marquette Friday afternoon, slowing traffic as people craned their heads to make sure they weren’t imagining things.

Was that a man on stilts walking down West Washington Street?

As it turns out, people were catching their first glimpse of Sauter, dubbed the “Michigan Stiltwalker.” Sauter was making his way from Marquette to Ishpeming Friday as a part of the 2013 United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan “Walk For No Limits,” which raises funds for the group’s assisted technology program. The program makes equipment – such as braces or assisted speech equipment – for people with disabilities.

“It’s a fun thing to do,” Sauter said of the fundraiser. “It’s really hard. I get really tired, but I meet a lot of really friendly people and it makes it worthwhile doing that.”

Cerebral palsy is a congenital disorder that affects body movement, posture and muscle coordination, making it difficult for many people with the disorder to walk.

Sauter spent several weekends making his way across much of lower Michigan, covering more than 250 miles, before heading to the Upper Peninsula, where he walked from Marquette to Ishpeming, then from Escanaba to Rapid River and in the Manistique area as well.

Sauter, who suffers from a mild case of cerebral palsy, said the fundraiser was born from the desire to give back.

“I had received a scholarship. I have cerebral palsy,” he said. “When I took the scholarship, I promised myself I was going to do something to pay it back in the future.”

After trying to figure out the best way to do that, Sauter said he found himself in conversation with another stilitwalker who said wearing the stilts was much like wearing braces, which Sauter had occasion to do to help his legs stay straight as he walked.

Once he strapped on the stilts, Sauter said he found his fundraiser.

“I’m more coordinated, it’s not easier because it’s very tiring to walk on stilts – they’re heavy – but the way my natural walking motion is, my feet turn inward a lot and because of that I often land on the outside of fit and roll my ankle over and trip over my own feet some,” Sauter said. “I’m a better walker on stilts because it holds my legs straight and also holds my heel down, so I don’t have the problem of my feet turning like I normally do when I walk.”

This year is Sauter’s second walking. He raised roughly $85,000 in the first.

He said he takes inspiration from the communities he travels through and has raised approximately $8,000 in cash donations alone, from people who approach him during his walks.

“I’ve had a lot of kids come up to me that have cerebral palsy say ‘I think it’s so cool what you’re doing,'” Sauter said. “They give me money from their chores. That kind of gives me inspiration from the young kids”

Sauter also headed out to Big Bay Friday, where he spoke to a group of fifth-grade students from Marquette.

Though he’s hoping to make the walk an annual event, Sauter said he still needs someone to help coordinate the massive undertaking. For more information on Sauter or to help out with his next walk, visit walkfornolimits.org.

More information on Sauter can also be found at www.themichiganstiltwalker.com.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.