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Cross-country walkers get a taste of Buffalo at Ted's in Arizona

Three big Buffalo guys walk into a Ted’s Hot Dogs.

How is this news?

Well, the Ted’s is in Tempe, Ariz. And to get there, the guys walked from Buffalo.

As they walk from their Riverside neighborhood to Los Angeles in their “2,700-Mile Rotund Challenge,” Jason Rogers, Chris Cooke and Joe Cooke continue to be assisted by a safety net of Western New York natives, one of whom brought the trio to Ted’s for Sahlen’s dogs, curly fries and loganberry drinks.

“I didn’t think I was going to have Sahlen’s till I got back!” said Joe Cooke, who, along with his brother and their friend Rogers, left home May 17 with about $700 in their pockets and pushing all their clothing, food, water and camping gear in modified baby strollers.

Rogers and Chris Cooke were severely overweight, with Cooke weighting 340 and Rogers hitting 478 pounds at one point before the walk. Their goal, to lose some weight, get in shape and see the country, was an incredible one for three guys whom Rogers admitted were “not the active type.”

But they put one foot in front of the other, through snow, rain, blazing heat, sandstorms, injury, illness, frustration and discouragement. They met people who helped them, from church congregations that fed and sheltered them to people who let them camp on their lawns.

Sunday afternoon, they had a taste of home in a familiar spot. “It was like an oasis in the desert for us,” said Rogers.

Louanne Kamienowski, who left Depew 16 years ago for Mesa, Ariz., learned about the walk on Facebook. She said, “Some old high school friends of mine reached out to me via Facebook and said, ‘Can you help these guys out? They are going to be hitting Mesa soon.’ ”

Kamienowski didn’t think twice.

“It’s a Buffalo thing, when you’re born and raised there you have to help each other,” she said. “We’ve been through a lot as a city, and with the sports teams, and I was like, I’ve got to help these guys.”

First she drove 55 miles to Globe to take the three out to dinner and to Walmart, where they got supplies. She told them to call her when they got to Mesa, where she paid for a motel room for them for three days.

“After they walk for about a week they have to rest for three nights,” she said.

Meanwhile, Andy Schneider, another member of the “2,700-Mi. Rotund Challenge” Facebook page group, contacted Ted’s to ask about hosting the walkers. Company president Thecly L. Ortolani told him, “If they’re able to get to the store, let me know and I’ll reach out to the managers and make sure we take good care of them.”

On Sunday, for the first time in nearly a year, the Cookes and Rogers stood before Ted’s charcoal grills.

For big guys, they ate relatively modestly, ordering two dogs, curly fries and a loganberry each.

“When our meals are covered, we try to be polite,” Rogers said. “We know someone is footing the bill.”

Almost as important as the food was the warm Buffalo welcome.

“The manager had just read the story about us Friday, because they have The Buffalo News delivered there,” said Rogers. The store managers, one from Grand Island and one from Clarence, welcomed the trio, offered free refills and bottled water and spent some time discussing the trek.

Ortolani said Tuesday that she was glad the walkers had made it to the Tempe store. “I think it’s such an awesome challenge they are doing and an adventure, and we were glad to fill their bellies for one meal,” she said.

The visit to Ted’s followed about 17 miles of rough walking from Miami, Ariz., to Superior, on a road with no shoulder that was “a tight-winding spiral through the mountains,” Rogers said. “It was probably the most difficult stretch.”

As they near their goal – the Santa Monica Pier because “Joe has some romantic notion about it,” said Rogers, “the excitement is starting to build.”

Walking the remaining 400 to 450 miles “isn’t anything at the rate we are able to do right now,” he said. Depending on stamina and injuries, they hope to arrive at the pier in the first or second week of April.

And how about getting home? “There has been some discussion and some preliminary plans, but nothing certain yet,” said Rogers.

But if this trip has taught them anything, it’s to not waste any time worrying about the future.

“We’ll ask the group when we’re done to help out, little donations here and there, and it will all add up to get us home,” said Chris Cooke.


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