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University of Missouri

His Own Drumbeat

David Curtis hikes to support scholarships.

David Curtis fording a river

David Curtis, BA ’67, MS ’76, fords a river in Maine. Curtis’ sponsored hikes have raised about $7,000 for MU scholarships. Photo courtesy of David Curtis.

Before David Curtis hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) at age 61, he didn’t know his boots were made for walking. He did know that he needed to get off his rear and start moving.

“I was a big, fat couch potato,” says Curtis, who went from 240 pounds to 169 pounds during the 2,175-mile, 198-day trek. “The AT has a special place in my heart because it was life changing.”

Curtis, BA ’67, MS ’76, had gained the weight despite spending much of his career outdoors as the director of parks and recreation for Warrensburg, Mo. Before he embarked, he hit up his parks, recreation and tourism alumni cohorts to sponsor him per mile, with the proceeds to go toward MU scholarships.

He adopted the trail name “Old Drum” after a Warrensburg dog shot and killed in 1869. The act incited a legendary trial that appealed to dog lovers everywhere, and Old Drum’s statue today sits on the courthouse lawn.

“I figured within 30 miles on the trail, I’d quit,” Curtis says. “Pledging per mile was not a huge risk on anyone’s part.”

Curtis not only conquered the AT in 2006, he went on to complete the 1,100-mile Florida Trail in 2009. He and his wife, Barbara, also cycled the Northern Tier from Anacortes, Wash., to Freeport, Maine, in 2007, and in September 2012, he finished the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail.

He has raised approximately $7,000 and spearheaded the endowed Dr. Randy C. Vessell Scholarship for parks, recreation and tourism students.

During his journeys, Curtis befriended such icons as Elizabeth Taylor, Chuck Norris, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and even Superman — all trail names, of course.

“If you feel like quitting, hike the rest of that day and the following day,” Curtis advises aspiring hikers. “If you still want to quit after that, then OK.”