Retired Catholic Central teacher walks equivalent of earth’s circumference with his son

Retired English teacher, guidance counselor has trekked more than 24,904 miles since 2016 in an effort to grow closer to God, nature

FARMINGTON HILLS — Jim Gavin has walked to the ends of the earth … well, sort of.

Logging 24,904 miles — equivalent to the circumference of the earth — on the Fitbit he received as a 2016 retirement gift from a colleague at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Novi, where he taught English and served as a guidance counselor for 26 years, Gavin has walked mile after mile, usually accompanied by his son Jimmy, in his three-wheeled Hoyt Racing chair.

What started out as a way to get out of the house and spend time with his son has turned into journey of sorts when Gavin realized just how far he was walking.

“After four months, I got this notification from Fitbit, a banner saying I walked the equivalence of the Nile River,” Gavin said. “I then got one saying I walked the Great Wall of China; next it was the distance from the Atlantic to the Pacific in the United States.”

Gavin ran in high school and college, and even during his 41-year teaching career at Bishop Borgess High School in Redford and Detroit Catholic Central, he walked as much as he could. Upon retirement, he made walking a daily habit.

Gavin averaged 18.7 miles a day for the next three years, establishing a routine in which, after dropping off Jimmy at New Gateways — a program for disabled adults in Waterford — he would embark on a 10-mile walk through his subdivision.

When Jimmy returned from New Gateways, the pair then would head to Walled Lake for a 7- to 10-mile walk, with Jim pushing Jimmy along the way. Jimmy has Angelman syndrome, a condition that limits his mental and physical capacities. Jim and his wife, Suzy, take care of their 35-year-old son 24/7.

Jim and Jimmy Gavin celebrate after reaching the 24,904-mile mark on one of their walks, as Suzy Gavin, Jim’s wife and Jimmy’s mother, made motivational posters. 

When Jim and Jimmy are on the trails, they make a habit of praying the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be for every mile.

Jim and Jimmy walk parks throughout the area, including in West Bloomfield around Pleasant Lake, Kensington Metropark in Milford and the Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi during the winter months.

Despite all the walking, it wasn’t until Gavin received a Fitbit notification two years ago that he had walked halfway around the world that he knew what he had to do: walk the other half.

“Besides doing the normal chores around the house, I decided to do an extra walk in the morning by myself,” Gavin said. “It allowed me to be in complete contact with God, and it’s really something that I’ve enjoyed doing. When you are praying, the time would go by quicker, too. I don’t do it because anyone is forcing me; it’s something I want to do. A little of it was God-inspired, I think.”

Gavin’s daily walks are a way for him to be out in nature, to think about life and reflect on God’s creation and gifts. On Sundays, he walks from his home to St. Fabian Parish in Farmington Hills for Mass.

“When I’m walking, I always think about where I am, walking out in nature, which is beautiful to me,” Gavin said. “I could be snowing, 5-below-zero, but the only time I’m not walking is if there is lightning out.”

Gavin used to wear headphones when he walked, but lately has been praying instead. 

“The communication I’ve had with God has been good,” Gavin said. “My son listens; he knows when I’m talking.”

Jimmy and Suzy attend Mass at St. Bonaventure Chapel in Detroit, and Jim joins them once a month when he’s not at St. Fabian.

On April 23, Gavin reached the 24,904-mile mark, equal to the circumference of the earth. His “circumnavigation” of the world took three years, nine months and 23 days, with an average of 18.7 miles a day, 131 miles a week and 524 miles a month.

Suzy recorded a short video of him and Jimmy finishing the “around-the-world” trip. 

Despite the massive accomplishment, the journey still continues — albeit at a slower pace.

“It was about a month and a half ago when we got back from a trip to Florida, and I said, ‘You know, Suzy, it’s 1,200 miles from Florida to home, and that’s exactly what I have left to do,’” Gavin said. “It would have taken me two months, but I finished ahead of time. I think I’m going to slow down now; I did about 14 miles today, which isn’t that big of a deal for me.”

Even going at a “slower pace,” Gavin will be trucking along. He started his journey not thinking too much about how far he was going, and he plans to return to that mindset, using his walks to pray, think, and connect with God.