It’s 8 a.m. in Sierra Vista Mall and the morning sun is streaming through the building’s many skylights. Store mannequins stand silently behind their stores’ security gates. Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” plays over the mall’s speakers — only it doesn’t appear that anyone is there to listen.
Then Frank and Cathy Broedel, both 84 years old, turn a corner and come into view. They walk silently, side by side; their strides are purposeful.
“My husband had an operation on his legs and the doctor suggested that he walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week,” Cathy said. “We do three (laps). It takes about 9 to 10 minutes for us to do a lap. He has to have another operation if he doesn’t unclog the veins in his legs, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The couple began walking in Sierra Vista Mall, Monday through Friday, two months ago.
“It’s safe, climate controlled and it’s just a nice environment,” Cathy continued.
The Sierra Vista Mall Walkers Program has been ongoing for years. Each morning at 6:30 a.m., the south mall doors at the west end, near Kohl’s, are opened for those seeking to get some exercise. Each complete lap on the dark tiles is slightly farther than a quarter-mile.
The mall is only closed for walkers on Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Security personnel and the mall walkers estimate there are about 30 to 40 regulars who show up daily to get their laps in. Many of them are seniors who feel a sense of security as they walk in groups indoors.
“We appreciate that they allow us in,” Cathy said. “When you get older, you’re not as able to protect yourself.”
Raquel Lushbough, of Clovis, said she used to walk around her neighborhood but became afraid of loose dogs. She recalled a time when her son called her to ask her to pick him up. He had been running in the neighborhood but was chased by a pit bull.
“I drove around and had to find him. He was really hiding from that dog,” she said.
So about six months ago she started walking inside the mall. She drives to Sierra Vista Mall about three times a week and walks four laps.
“It’s a lot safer,” she said. “There’s a lot of people that take advantage of this. Everybody is so friendly.”
Darshan Dha, 76, said the tile floor is safer than the treacherous terrain outdoors.
“One time I was walking on the footpath outside, and I fell down. My bone,” she said, motioning to her hand, “kind of cracked.”
Dha has been walking in the mall almost daily for five years. She averages six laps per morning.
The mall walkers enjoy more than the sense of security. The mall’s restroom is open and the water fountains are always available. There are also benches and chairs throughout the mall for those who need a bit of a rest between laps.
Sandi Giovannoni uses a Fitbit to track her steps.
“I do over 10,000 steps,” she said.
Giovannoni walks with the regulars Monday through Friday; her husband joins her on Saturday and Sunday. They’re using the mall as training grounds for an upcoming vacation.
“We’re taking a walking tour to Italy, so we’re trying to make sure we’re ready for that,” she said. “We’re going to Tuscany!”