Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 7, 2013

SALISBURY — Every night after work, Russ Roakes drives to the middle of downtown Salisbury, parks his car and often steps into Innes Street Drug for a Diet Cheerwine.

With soft drink in hand, Roakes pulls the smart phone out of his pocket and presses the “start/walk” button on his Nike Plus application. He then takes off in one of four directions — whatever catches his fancy — and walks.

There’s no stretching involved. Roakes just adjusts his wrap-around sunglasses, scrunches the toes in his Reebok sneakers and goes.

“I don’t play around,” he says. “It’s time to move.”

Since June 2012, when he purchased his smart phone, Roakes has logged 1,062 miles in downtown Salisbury. He actually started walking in February 2012, and without changing anything in his diet, he has dropped 30 pounds just from his evening hikes.

He started out at 235 pounds and now weighs in at 205. A funeral director at Powles Funeral Home in Rockwell, Roakes guesses he has about 25 suits, and only three of those actually fit now because of his weight loss.

He has traded in his normal “extra-large” T-shirts for “large” sizes — something he probably hasn’t seen since the seventh grade.

“I didn’t realize how chubby I had gotten,” Roakes says.

Roakes, 42, always makes sure to walk a minimum of 3 miles, and he never really plans where he is going.

Northward, he’ll walk as far as the Bojangles restaurant in Spencer. Roundtrip from the Square, that journey is right at 6 miles, Roakes reports.

He goes as far as Catawba College when he heads west or as far south as Curt and Geri’s Dairy Bar. When he walks east, he usually stays on the downtown side of the East Innes Street railroad bridge, because there’s too much traffic to deal with heading toward the interstate.

Roakes has a bit of wanderlust in him. He seldom sticks to the main roads, preferring to take his hike onto plenty of side streets.

He likes Salisbury because of all the people, cars and businesses he can pass. Walking around a track would be just too monotonous, he says.

Roakes has plenty of conversations on his outings. Tiffany Kepley often serves him his fountain Diet Cheerwine, and she’s often getting the drink ready for him as soon as he walks in the door.

Clyde might speak with him, or Scott Howard at Uncle Buck’s, or the folks at Salisbury Square Antiques.

Roakes and his friend and fellow walker Ed LaFrage talk sometimes with Ed Suggs, a homeless person who hangs out at Magnolia Park across from the Salisbury Post.

Roakes says Suggs is well-educated and well-mannered. He wonders why things turned south for him. He and LaFrage usually take Suggs hot meals on the major holidays.

Roakes’ walking routine — and it’s something he makes time for every day, even on vacations — started as a way to support his best friend LaFrage, who was dealing with some minor health issues.

They started walking about 2 miles at first and immediately began recognizing the benefits. LaFrage eventually lost 40 pounds and was able to come off a diabetic pill, Roakes says. They still partner up on many walks, as does Roakes’ wife, Dakeita.

An emergency room nurse at the Hefner VA Medical Center, Dakeita is accustomed to being on the move.

Roakes says she is built for speed. He goes more for stamina.

The longest distance Roakes has covered in one evening has been 9 miles in the 102-degree heat of last August. He and LaFrage have tackled heat, cold, rain and snow on their trips, not letting the weather stop them.

Roakes walked downtown as late as 11 one night, and that turned out to be a hidden blessing because he was able to watch the circus train go through Salisbury.

Roakes was walking another evening when he witnessed a van strike a older woman crossing a downtown intersection. Roakes was the first person to reach the woman’s side and watched as she came back to consciousness and later refused an ambulance ride to the hospital.

Other walks have been happier occasions, such as the night he found a $20 bill on the sidewalk near the Square.

Roakes’ normal walking gear includes a T-shirt, shorts, sunglasses and white Reeboks. He buys a new pair of Reeboks every six weeks to make sure he’ll have adequate support for his feet.

Roakes says he definitely sleeps better, feels better and has more energy since he has added walking to his daily routine.

His next short-term goal is to reach 200 pounds.

His long-range goal: keep on walking.

“I don’t miss,” Roakes says. “I don’t miss.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or