Lower Valley women share life stories during 23 years of weekend walks
By Tawnya Panizzi
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
What happens on the walk, stays on the walk.
That's the motto of Eileen Koch and Alice Slapikas, two Lower Valley women who forged a deep friendship by putting one foot in front of the other for 23 years during weekend walks.
Koch, 59, of Aspinwall and Slapikas, 58, of O'Hara met as strangers during a Lamaze class at The Western Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh in 1990.
“We were the only two from this area so we kind of hit it off,” said Slapikas, who works at UPMC St. Margaret, near Aspinwall.
They began a buddy system to walk off the baby weight, but what happened next surprised them both.
“It was amazing how much we have in common,” Koch said. “As our kids grew, the topics changed, but there were always similarities.”
At first, the pair would meet at The Waterworks Giant Eagle at 5:30 a.m. on weekends before the newborns awoke. They could put in four miles around the shopping plaza and get home before the first bottles were due.
“You can tell we're a lot older,” Koch said with a laugh, “because now we don't meet until 10.”
Because their children were the same age and sometimes in the same classes at in the Fox Chapel Area School District, the women often dealt with similar issues.
“First, there was the obstacle of half-day kindergarten, then Girl Scouts, sports, teachers and socialness,” Koch said.
“We can't believe so many years have gone by. I have pictures of our babies as infants, and now, they're both in grad school.
“We're always talking a mile a minute, and we focus not on walking but on the conversation and what's going on in each other's lives.”
Topics have transitioned from play dates and homework to health issues and employment.
Recently, they had to lighten the laps while Slapikas recuperated from two knee replacements.
They've switched up the scenery, as well, from the loop at RIDC Park in O'Hara to the high school track to the trails at Squaw Valley Park.
When it rains or dips below freezing like it has been recently, they meet for an indoor stroll at the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills in Frazer.
“Last week, we were out, and it suddenly starting snowing,” Koch said. “We were laughing hysterically because we were getting pounded by snow, and we looked around, and of course, no one was out but us.”
Over the years, the walks have cemented the friendship and bolstered their overall health.
The pair still meet Saturdays and Sundays for a dedicated hour of exercise, but it is combined with motivation and sharing that has become like therapy.
It has become less about fitness and more an emotional workout, the women agreed.
“We've been able to help each other through a lot,” Slapikas said. “I look forward to that time each week to laugh and share with my confidant.”
Koch added: “The doctor is in, 5 cents.”
She said in today's world of technology and instant gratification, the women enjoy touching base face to face.
“It's an example we try to set,” Koch said. “The kids are always talking to 10 people at once on the computer or phone, but that quality isn't there.”
Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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