Walking the Talk

Mario Lemafa and Sia Figiel are walking across the U.S. to raise awareness of diabetes and obesity.

On June 1, 2016, Mario Lemafa and Sia Figiel began their walk across the country at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., as an homage to western Samoa’s independence, which was won on the same date. Their planned walk of over 2,500 miles will end in Long Beach, California, and is meant to raise awareness for obesity and diabetes epidemics in both the U.S. and Samoan islands.

“In the beginning we were walking around eight miles a day and now we’re walking around 10 to 12 miles a day on average. The longest we’ve ever walked in a day has been 25 miles,” Lemafa said.

Mario Lemafa has taken on the role of “navigator” and allows his walking partner, Figiel, to focus on her health along the trek, as she lives with diabetes.

“Where I’m able to focus on a lot of other things, she’s not because she has to focus on herself and her body. So, I plan where and how we’re walking. I’ve definitely had to be very tactful and strategic in mapping out where we go, what trails we travel, and all of that,” Lemafa said.

Lemafa and Figiel’s shared ties to Samoan culture have proved motivational along their journey. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, the Samoan islands are home to the highest rates of adult obesity in the world and the World Health Oranization reports diabetes as a consistent leading cause of death in Samoa.

“Growing up in a Samoan culture has shown us how large of a problem obesity is. For example, my grandparents died at an earlier age than they should have because of their health and I’ve struggled with being over weight. At one point I was 100 pounds heavier, ” Lemafa said.

Lemafa and Figiel have not only changed their diets, but their mindsets as well.

“We decided to be vegans along this walk, and we weren’t before, just as a testament to how possible it is to eat right and live a healthier life,” Lemafa said.

He went on to say, “I’ve learned a lot about myself. The road will test you in so many ways and tendencies that you may not even know you had will come out and are amplified, especially when you’re by yourself or just with one other person.”

Walking across the country has provided time for introspection.

“This walk has made me focus on who I am in every moment, like who I am right now instead of thinking about or imagining what I should be or anything like that. I now appreciate where and who I am,” Lemafa said.

Their journey has been met with a large amount of support.

“It’s been refreshing to see this kind of humanity. Everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve been shown kindness. It’s almost unreal, and definitely unexpected,” Lemafa said.

Lemafa sees the inconsistency of his travels as the most difficult part of journey, but remains positive and sure of his team’s goal.

“The hardest part is that every day is different. I’m really just looking forward to the finish line. When we started, we kept envisioning walking into LA surrounded by people and that’s what keeps me going. I also look forward to a great shift in culture. I see a cultural shift in the way people treat themselves, in how people look at and value themselves and their bodies,” Lemafa said.


The duo’s Facebook and GoFundMe pages are linked below: 

Facebook page

GoFundMe page