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Thomas Kline, a former vice president of Pfizer Inc., shown on a visit to the Arctic Circle in Iceland. Contributed photo by Thomas Kline.

Take a moment to ponder the thought of walking 85,000 miles.

That's like hiking from New York City to Los Angeles 35 times. The distance is more than twice the circumference of the planet Earth.

It has taken University of Chattanooga graduate Thomas Kline, 77, a lifetime to log 85,000 miles on foot, but the former engineer and pharmaceutical company executive has kept meticulous records to prove his steps.

Kline, a retired vice president of Pfizer Inc., has written about his adventures walking in more than 60 countries in a new book called, "Walking 85,000 Miles to Aide Humanity and Have Fun."

He once walked 6,500 miles, in stages, from the northernmost tip of Alaska to South Florida to raise money for malaria relief. As recently as last year, Kline visited Iceland to meander around the arctic circle. He has walked the New York City marathon 32 times.

"I wrote this book as a motivational tool to encourage people to get up, walk, and in tiny, but imperative steps, change the world," said Kline, who lives in Hollywood, Florida.

Anyone who knew Kline from his U.C. days in the 1960s probably remembers him as a fast-talking New Yorker who landed at the university with a nearly empty wallet and a full heart. He eventually wound up as student body president, which foreshadowed his later success as a business leader.

The son of a vacuum cleaner salesman, Kline said he chose Chattanooga for college for the adventure of exploring a different part of the country.

He recalls, without hard feelings, being disinvited from a friend's house here at Thanksgiving because he was Catholic and being told he couldn't date a girl he liked because he was a Northerner. Sill, he remembers his years in Chattanooga fondly and said he figures people have their reasons for believing what they do.

Kline graduated from U.C. (the predecessor of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) in 1966 with a bachelor's degree in engineering and went on to the University of Missouri, where he got a master's degree in industrial engineering. After that, he joined the Army Corps of Engineers and served as a platoon leader during the Vietnam War.

He still keeps an eye on the pharmaceuticals industry and even recently wrote Dr. Anthony Fauci to share information about a vaccine topic. But his true passion is for his daily walks and the people he meets along the way.

Kline says his walking hobby began as an instruction from an Army colonel who told him to stay in shape as he awaited deployment to Vietnam. Soon afterward, Kline said, he saw a race walker on television and decided that the distinctive hip-wiggling, race-walking style would be his ticket to lifetime fitness.

"The next day, I got on my combat boots and drove across the river to Iowa and started walking in the corn fields," he said.

After the war, he walked his first New York City Marathon in 1976 and was the last participant to finish. Also in the mid-70s, he completed his first multi-day walking marathon, where the goal is to walk 300 miles in 144 hours.

Many of his 85,000 lifetime miles were logged on his international trips across Europe and Asia as a top Pfizer executive. On one trip he decided to walk from the Atlantic to the Pacific across Panama and kept noticing local authorities were interrupting his walks every day. He later learned they had been hired by Pfizer to guard his safety.

Now in retirement, Kline said, he walks 7 or 8 miles a day. His typical pace is about 4 miles an hour, he said, and he claims the benefits are as much mental as physical.

"For me the most important benefit is psychological," he said. "It's emotional therapy."

Life Stories is published on Mondays. Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPcolumnist.

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