New Jersey’s Paul Ferraro is changing lives one step at a time

This past spring, Paul Ferraro of Hainesport, NJ was playing cards with a friend at Burlington Country Club in Mt. Holly, NJ—a home away from home on most Wednesdays and Sundays since 1994, where he also plays golf. Ferraro recalls the conversation that led him to his decision: “My friend said, ‘Paul, I challenge you to do something epic.’”

The recently retired, extraordinarily successful 58-year-old entrepreneur decided to meet the challenge. Ferraro plans to embark on a 3,000 mile walk—yes, walk—across the United States.

Why such a dramatic undertaking? And why forego the comforts of home—running water, indoor plumbing, heat?

Ferraro allows the questions to ruminate for a few moments, then in a very matter-of-fact, enthusiastic manner, offers his answer: “I believe everyone has a debt to pay to people that do things that we can’t or won’t do. This is my way of paying that debt.”

Ferraro intends—through his walk—to raise awareness and funds for the Navy Seal Foundation. He plans to speak in various venues along the way, such as police and fire departments, schools, American Legions and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. Any money raised during the walk will go directly to the foundation.

When Ferraro returns, he’ll also hit the trail with motivational speaking engagements. Half of all the money he receives for speaking (after expenses) will be donated to the foundation.

“The organization helps families of fallen Seals with education, funeral costs, mortgages and home maintenance,” said Ferraro, who conducted extensive research on numerous non-profits before choosing this foundation. “It’s a very small non-profit. I love the organization. Navy Seals are a small, elite group. What they are doing to fight global terrorism is so important.”

With an affinity for the military, the choice in organization made sense. “My father [who passed away in 1998] was in the military,” explained Ferraro, who was raised predominantly in the town of Gloucester, NJ. Yet, because of his dad’s Air Force career, the family moved frequently.

His walk will begin on April 1, 2015 from the Navy Seal base in Virginia Beach and culminate seven months later at their base in Coronado Beach, San Diego. The goal is to finish on Veterans Day, says Ferraro, who has already mapped out much of the route. “I’ll walk on the east side of the Appalachian Mountains, then make a beeline to Austin, Texas,” he explained.

As far as luggage and personal belongings, he’s talking layers and traveling light. The 5’ 10”, 160-pound Ferraro—who hopes to drop 15 pounds—will bring just one set of extra clothing, a tent he’ll pitch on many nights (he may alternate with stays in motels) and a jogging stroller, which he’ll push across the country. “I’ll probably go through five pairs of North Face walking shoes,” said Ferraro, adding that he’ll choose high tech gear and clothes with quick drying material. He’ll carry a cell phone and solar energy pack.

For Ferraro, life—admittedly—has been good, including enjoying homes in Delray Beach, FL and Long Beach Island, NJ. He’s also enjoyed relishing in a scuba diving hobby at such locations as Hawaii, Italy, Fiji and Australia. “It just felt right to give something back,” he said.

Ferraro beams as he talks about his long, happy union with his high school sweetheart, Peggy. The two, who married at age 18, recently celebrated their 40th anniversary. “It wasn’t because we had to get married,” Ferraro said. “The day I met her, I said we’d be married within a year.” The couple has two sons, 36 and 34, and two grandsons, 14 and 12.

Ferraro, who feels fortunate to have maintained good health, has also been blessed with success in business.

That success has included motivational speaking engagements across the globe. “I’ve been to 100 countries,” he said. “Almost all of my travel came from a lifetime of sales and marketing.” Ferraro often spoke about developing a business vision as a skill set. His message inspired audiences, employees of companies large and small.

He intends to continue this passion after the walk with a new topic: “How to Reinvent Yourself Within a Corporation.” Ferraro speaks from real-world expertise.

In 1994, he started a high-tech company with two partners. The RE/COM Group Inc., he explains, delivered an array of services “from engineering to being an Internet service provider. RE/COM was one of the largest authorized AT&T providers in the United States.” They also were a major reseller of Cisco products.

In 2002, the partners sold the business to Dimension Data of Johannesburg, South Africa. “As a private company, our growth rate for the six years was over 6,000 percent,” said Ferraro, who stayed on until 2002 when he retired. In 2010, he went back to work for the company, retiring for a second time in March 2014.

His ideas and business acumen have been well received, to say the least. In 2000, he accepted Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award. His partners were also individual recipients of the award. RE/COM was also rated number 40 in an annual review of Inc. Magazine’s 500 America’s Fastest Growing Companies. Ferraro attributes his success to “great timing, perfect partners, the best employees and some luck.”

Yet where will Ferraro muster the stamina to walk 3,000 miles? It seems he already has expertise in this arena. And he’s garnered moral and logistical support from a team of tireless volunteers, such as Kelly VanDermel of Raleigh-Durham, NC, who’s handling publicity.

A decade ago, Ferraro walked 2,000 miles from Ireland to Rome with a group of 25 students from a New Hampshire college. The walk took 100 days. “It was part of the students’ curriculum,” he said.

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Ferraro takes a break during the Camino Santiago.

This past August—to celebrate four decades of marriage and prepare for the upcoming feat—Peggy joined her husband on the historic Camino de Santiago. “It’s a 500-mile walk from the tip of France to Santiago, Spain,” he explained. “Over 100,000 people—called pilgrims—make this journey every year. They’ve been doing it for 2,000 years. People walk from all over the world—Israel, Rome, Holland. Some do it for religious reasons, others for health reasons.” Ferraro says the allure of the pilgrimage is that the remains of St. James, the brother of Jesus, are said to be in Santiago. Ferraro grew a beard during the journey.

It was an amazing experience for Ferraro, though Peggy couldn’t complete the walk due to some injuries. Ferraro was never alone. “In each town along the way, there’s a hostel just for the pilgrims,” he said. “It costs about seven Euros a night to stay there [equivalent to $10].” Meals for the pilgrims were also subsidized. In the evening, Ferraro would enjoy a high caloric dinner: salad, spaghetti, a large bowl of chicken, potatoes, bread, wine and dessert. Walking such distances, he says, burns up a lot of calories. So carbohydrates are needed to keep energy level at its peak.

“I would rub Vaseline on my feet every morning,” he said. “My wife didn’t do this and she had so many blisters on her feet. Believe it or not, I didn’t have one blister.

“My goal is to walk 25 miles a day,” continued Ferraro, who is gearing up physically and mentally for the upcoming trek. Come January 1, he’ll begin walking 15 miles a day—no matter the weather. He’s been preparing lots of vacuum-packed food as well. Some he’ll carry in tow; the rest will be sent to him on the road.

As far as training, Ferraro says he’s very self-disciplined. He’ll do core, strength and conditioning exercises on a regular basis. He has a full gym inside his house. “I’m very self-motivated,” he explained. “I will try to simulate the challenges that I’ll face.”

Ferraro is equally committed to balancing nutrition with physical conditioning. He’s already altered his diet. A typical day usually includes oatmeal and fruit for breakfast; a salad with protein for lunch; nuts and fruit as a snack; and fish, salad, a starch and a small dessert for dinner.

Over the years, Ferraro has consulted with trainers and nutritionists, learning to prepare for endurance challenges. Although he doesn’t describe himself as a triathlete of any sort, he has proudly completed three United States Marine Corps 26.2-mile marathons.

Walking across the country is much farther than the Camino Santiago. Does Ferraro have any trepidation? “I’m not at all scared,” he said. “I am concerned about the desert at the end of August and early September where there will be long stretches in the middle of the night. I’m also concerned about snakes, wild boars and dogs. I’ll carry bear spray.”

Ferraro says he’s driven to take this “epic” trip. “I know it’s the right thing to do because of the response I’ve gotten.” Since announcing his intentions, people have stepped forward, volunteering to take on a multitude of tasks. Others have made donations and offered sponsorships.

Ferraro pulls a large blue and gold Navy Seal Foundation coin from his pocket, given to him by a foundation staff member. “I always carry the coin,” he says. “I carry it when I’m training and will carry it while I’m traveling. It reminds me of what these warriors are doing for our country every day.”

Visit www.navysealfoundation.org. 

Ferraro’s website, www.theroadIchose.com, will include a blog of his travels and a page for donations.