By Jenny Rough, Special to The Washington Post
On a mild January morning in Lafayette, Colorado, 22 residents and five dogs gathered for a walk along the Coal Creek Trail. Bundled in puffy coats and fleece hats, they explored the great outdoors, taking in views of snow-covered Longs Peak.
Two thousand miles away, in Naples, Florida, a cluster of walkers put in laps on the fitness trail around Lake Avalon. Meanwhile, outside the New Brunswick train station in New Jersey, dozens of people huddled together before setting off on the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Trail.
St. Louis; Chicago; Cleveland; Tacoma, Wash. — similar walks took place in 20 cities across America that day. The events were organized by EverWalk, a movement to get Americans out and about – on foot.
EverWalk is the brainchild of endurance athlete Diana Nyad, who swam from Cuba to Florida at age 64, and her trainer, Bonnie Stoll.
The two friends are determined to transform a nation of couch potatoes and screen addicts into those who walk everywhere: with a dog, with kids to school, with neighbors after dinner, with a list of errands around town, with colleagues during business meetings.
The social walks on the first Saturday of each month are part of EverWalk’s Ambassador Club, led by people committed to building a walking community in their region. Set on a loop or an out-and-back course, walkers can begin with one or two miles and work their way up to 10.
Walking groups help adults reduce body fat and lower blood pressure, and can improve mood, according to a meta-study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Social walking also provides accountability. Ninety-five percent of those who worked out with a group completed a weight-loss program compared with 76 percent who exercised alone, one study showed. Plus, it offers camaraderie.
“You have wonderful conversations with people you’d never meet otherwise,” EverWalker Denise Onuskanich says.
Yet walking offers more than just health perks. “It’s unbelievably beautiful, this planet,” Nyad says. “There’s an enlightenment and empowerment to walking it.”
And nearly everyone can do it.
Entrepreneur Susan Bateman, 62, assumed her days of physical activity were over. In 2008, she had back surgery. Two years later, she needed a hysterectomy to treat uterine cancer. “I thought: I’m getting older, my body’s slowing down.” But last year, she read Nyad’s memoir, “Find a Way,” and her mind-set shifted. She may never ski again, but she could get in shape by walking – and motivate others. Bateman now serves as EverWalk ambassador for the group in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Walking’s one downside? “It takes so darn much time,” Nyad admits.
“Start with 12 minutes,” Stoll suggests, a short walk. Keep up short walks during the week and save a long walk for Saturday.
Lawyer David Ascher, another EverWalk ambassador who also represents the FreeWalkers (a similar organization), says walking is a sport that can be taken up easily and that most people will notice a drastic improvement in a short amount of time.
“People say, ‘I can only walk two or three miles,’ but when you get out there and develop a routine, they find they can stretch themselves to five or 10 miles,” he says.
Ascher was an avid cyclist who became interested in long-distance walking after participating in the 50-Mile Kennedy Walk, an annual event that retraces then-U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s 1963 trek from Potomac, Maryland, to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The walk was inspired by Kennedy’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, who encouraged physical fitness. This year, it takes place Saturday.
Ascher challenged himself further in 2017 when he walked 134 miles over seven days from Boston to Cape Elizabeth, Maine, on one of EverWalk’s epic events, a city-to-city walk in a different place each year for those who want to attempt an extreme endurance event that doesn’t require as much intense training as a marathon or Ironman Triathlon.
Training is recommended, however; and EverWalk sends out a four-month training plan for the epic walks. EverWalk’s next one will follow a course from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., from Aug. 26 to Sept. 1. EverWalk also hosts a service event once a year in Key West, Florida, that includes a 10-mile walk in the morning and work for Habitat for Humanity in the afternoon.
Ascher likes how walking is safer than cycling, easier on the knees than running and virtually hassle-free.
“I’m always sitting around in sneakers. If I want to go on a walk, 30 seconds later, I’m walking.”
To find out if there is a group in your city, check the Ambassador Map at everwalk.com; to create a new group in your area, email firstname.lastname@example.org.