Name: Jeffrey Alt, MS, CCC-SLP
Title: Speech-language pathologist, Mason City (Ohio) Schools
Hometown: Toledo, Ohio
Jeff Alt, MS, CCC-SLP, and his wife, Beth Alt, MA CCC-SLP, and their two kids prepare for a day of hiking.
Jeff Alt wants you to go take a hike. Not only that, he wants you to take your kids, too. This school-based speech-language pathologist in Ohio has been hiking for more than 35 years. He's trekked the 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife, carried his then-21-month-old daughter on a family trek across Ireland on the Burren Way, and swears by the power of a good walk in the woods.
"Hiking is the best sport and anyone can do it," 46-year-old Alt says. "It's free, doesn't need fancy equipment and it's a lifelong activity. Doing it as a family is even better."
In addition to being an SLP for Mason City Schools in Mason, Ohio, Alt is a noted hiking expert and speaker, and author of "A Walk for Sunshine," "Four Boots–One Journey" and his new book, "Get Your Kids Hiking: How to Start Them Young and Keep it Fun". As a hiking expert, he has been featured on Discoverychannel.com, ESPN's "Inside America's National Parks," Hallmark Channel, USA Today, CNN-Radio, USA Radio Network and the Chicago Sun-Times. His mission, he says, is to get as many people as he can to head outside.
"We are in a society today where our kids are plugged in all the time," says this father of Madison, age 8, and William, age 5. "Getting kids up and moving is a good idea for so many reasons."
And as an SLP, Alt has seen many of those reasons. Growing up as the second oldest of five kids, Alt recalls his family being very active with camping and hiking. When his younger brother, Aaron, was born, however, the Alt family had to redefine "activity." Aaron was born with cerebral palsy and cognitive impairments. Alt recalls early intervention specialists—including SLPs—coming to the house regularly to help Aaron. He was fascinated by the work of the SLPs and helped carry over the work they did with his brother.
"Of all the obstacles Aaron had to overcome, I thought the most frustrating one for him would be communicating," Alt says. "If I had to pick something, some skill to keep, I'd want my speech—I realized the power of communication, even back then."
Not surprisingly, all of his siblings have gone into helping professions, such as nursing or first responder. Alt chose speech-language pathology because of what he saw with his brother. "Intervention works [best] if you start early—same thing with hiking. Start early."
Today, Alt enjoys both his profession of being an SLP and his passion for hiking, sometimes combining the two. He has taken some of his elementary-age students on nature hikes and scavenger hunts outdoors—all in the name of encouraging language and interaction. On another front, his first Appalachian Trail journey inspired Alt's annual Sunshine Walk 5K Run and Roll to benefit children with developmental disabilities. His brother, Aaron, always rolls alongside him at the event, now in its 16th year.
But most of Alt's adventures are with his family.
"I call it 'child-directed hiking,' and it's all about making it fun and making it a game," Alt says. "It works with my own kids and it's a great way to extend their language skills and get them excited. You may not get to the top of the hill that you picked out, but so what? The point is to have fun."