The Long road to recovery

Marlin Long

MILTON — Every day for nearly 30 years, Marlin Long has walked 10 miles back and forth along a section of North Ridge Road behind the American Truck Plaza outside of Milton, a practice he adheres to diligently to maintain a healthy back.

Long, who now works as a custodian at White Deer Elementary School, broke his back in October 1987 after falling from a 17-foot roof while laying shingles as a roofer. Long said it was common practice to jump between buildings, and one day he missed, managing to hang onto the edge of the roof briefly before falling to the concrete below.

“I thought I just broke my legs, but then everything started going numb,” Long said. He spent a week in the hospital, where he was placed in body cast he had to wear for the next six months, a part of the initial recovery process he said was excruciating.

After the cast was removed, Long wore a body brace for an additional six months. During that time and for a couple years after, he continued to suffer pain in his back as a result of his injuries, and sought opinions from four different doctors around Pennsylvania about how best to pursue further treatment.

In June 1993, Long underwent surgery on his back and had five screws, two plates and a rod implanted at the Costello Center in Williamsport by Dr. Ronald DiSimone from UPMC Susquehanna.

Only a few months after being discharged from surgery, Long began to take walks outdoors in an effort to speed up his recovery process. By September 1993, he he had started to complete 10 miles a day, a daily goal he has maintained ever since.

“I did a lot of therapy, then when I started walking it might have only been a mile, two miles each day, and I just kept going more and more,” Long said.

At one point, Long said he was walking 2,165 steps per mile, according to his pedometer, but he has become so familiar with the route that he no longer needs to measure the distances. Before his injury, Long used to ride his bike along the same road, one year clocking 9,000 miles. He said he misses biking, which he has had to give up on doctors’ recommendations owing to his back.

Still, Long said he considers himself lucky that he’s dealt with no further complications from his injuries since he began his regimen, crediting yearly checkups with DiSimone as well.

“It really does help my back,” he said. “There’s days you get out there and don’t want to do it, but once you do it and you get it done you really feel good.”

Long said he isn’t particularly interested in events like local 5k walks, preferring to stick to the half-mile to three-quarter-mile stretch of North Ridge Road he’s been walking since the start of his recovery. Ten times down and back the section of road, on a slight hill, gets him to his 10-mile goal each day.

In his role as a school custodian, Long said he probably walks an additional 5 miles each night. He and his wife have two Doberman Pinschers, Lily and Lucy, which he takes on shorter walks owing to their age.

Long said he doesn’t have any specific mantra he repeats to keep himself moving, but he enjoys listening to country music while he walks, removing his headphones occasionally to let the sounds of the outdoors spur him on. He said he’s seen plenty of wildlife in the woods along the road, mostly deer and wild turkey.

Long wears out a pair of sneakers every seven weeks, or about every 500 miles, sometimes sooner in the summer when the hot weather causes faster deterioration. At $120 a pair, he joked that his walking has become a bit of an expensive habit.

Staff writer Matt Stulberg can be reached at 570-742-9671 ext. 114 or email

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