”Writing is one way of making the world our own, and walking is another.”
— Michel de Certeau
The West Virginia Walkers, the Charleston chapter of the EverWalk Nation, took their first steps of the nascent group’s monthly “First Saturday” walks in September at the state Capitol Complex in Charleston.
Self-paced routes allowed the participants to undertake 1-, 2- or 3-mile walks of their choosing around the Capitol Complex, through surrounding East End neighborhoods and along the Kanawha River on Kanawha Boulevard.
Their second gathering, on Oct. 5, afforded the walkers early fall foliage glimpses along a moderately challenging, but scenic, stroll on the Carriage Trail in Charleston, encompassing about a 1.5-mile round-trip.
Their peregrinations are among dozens happening as part of EverWalk Nation, a nationwide movement self-described to “spark an epic revolution” of American wellness through walking. EverWalk Nation was founded by Diana Nyad and Bonnie Stoll three years ago. A primary goal is to recruit at least 1 million Americans of all ages to forsake their sedentary lifestyles and walk more often — collectively or individually as much as opportunity presents itself.
Patti Hamilton of Charleston founded the area chapter and serves as the EverWalk ambassador for the West Virginia Walkers.
“I read about the EverWalk Nation in a magazine, went to its Facebook page and I liked what they were doing,” Hamilton said. “I contacted them and told them we had no EverWalk presence in West Virginia and asked what would I do to get that started here.
“They asked me to be an ambassador, which meant to commit to setting up a First Saturday event every month, to walk 2 to 5 miles, which is a pretty nice workout. The idea is you’re promoting walking and movement,” she said.
Hamilton created a Facebook page for the West Virginia Walkers, to gauge interest and extend a public invitation to the inaugural First Saturday walk on Sept. 3.
“From that and an announcement in the Charleston Gazette-Mail Bulletin Board, we got our first group that walked at the Capitol. I was really pleased; we got eight or nine people for the first one, and I thought that was great. They all really liked the idea. Most of them were a lot like me — they walk a lot but walk alone. It was kind of fun to be in a group.
“Personally, I’ve always loved to walk — it’s probably the only type of exercise I’m really good at,” she said. “It’s a little more fun to get suggestions from others who’ve walked throughout the area. I know I’m in a rut just walking in my neighborhood. It’s fun to have different areas, and I’m trying to have a different place to walk every First Saturday.”
The First Saturday walk for November is set for Saturday, Nov. 2, beginning at 9 a.m. Hamilton said Saturday’s walk will traverse a portion of the bicycle trail on Kanawha Avenue in Kanawha City. Participants can opt for the entire 4-mile round-trip or as far as they wish to undertake. Saturday morning’s walk will start at the intersection of 37th Street and Kanawha Avenue. Parking will be available underneath the 35th Street Bridge or on 37th Street, she said.
“It’s a nice walk up the river and back, and it’s an easy walk,” she said. “This will be on mostly flat land.”
While striving to make the First Saturday routes accessible for all levels of walkers, Hamilton said, she considers selecting various routes that are challenging but not necessarily daunting to novices.
“There’s a mix between walks and hikes. I differentiate being the two. The Carriage Trail is probably the best mixture of both; it’s a hybrid. I personally consider a hike a little more rugged and ‘forest-y’ and a walk more like a sidewalk path. I want to try a mix, because some people don’t like to hike and some don’t like to just walk.”
Hamilton said participation in the First Saturday walks can be taken in figurative stride; it requires no membership, dues or competitive or distance quotas to meet.
“It’s doing it for yourself,” she said. “It’s a nice change to walk with some other folks. Everybody walks at their own pace. It’s really a commitment to yourself to walk and move and get some exercise.
“That’s what I really liked about the EverWalk Nation when I first read about them. Particularly in West Virginia, we need this so badly, because we’re an older demographic, we’re not very healthy, we have an obesity problem and all kinds of things. This is just a commitment to walking a few times a week.
“My goal is to dance at my grandchildren’s weddings,” Hamilton said.
South Hills resident Bob Galloway has participated and perambulated in both of the West Virginia Walkers’ First Saturdays, curious after seeing the newspaper announcement about the group’s formation.
“I showed up at the Capitol that first day,” Galloway, 78, said. “It was a nice walk and a decent day. I walk a lot and thought about walking with a lot of other people instead.”
Galloway has rheumatoid arthritis and walks frequently for exercise, usually in the morning or early evening. “It helps my joints and keeps my body in shape, to fight off all of these problems,” he said.
Mary Jane Pickens, executive director of the West Virginia Board of Risk and Insurance Management, joined the West Virginia Walkers for the social interaction as well.
“I already am a walker, one of those crazy people who counts their steps all of the time and takes the long way. I also have a little dog I like to walk with, but this was an opportunity to get with a group of people, walk along with them and talk about things. It’s a nice way to engage with people, which is something I enjoy, along with walking,” Pickens said.
“Sometimes, I think getting out and doing something different can make you a more creative thinker,” she added. “Meeting new people and learning what they do and are interested in — I think it’s a way to broaden our lives. Sometimes, people get so busy with daily life — moving from one crisis to another and putting out fires — that it’s nice to get away from it for a half-hour or so.”
Jeanne Chandler of Mink Shoals worked for 35 years with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and now helps adult students attain their high school diplomas. Her history of recreational walking is, so to speak, long running.
“I’ve always been a walker,” Chandler said, “and Patti is a friend. When she was talking about getting a group together, I thought it would be a nice way to meet some people and just walk. As we walked, we got to talking, and the next thing I knew, we’d done the whole thing and were back at the Capitol. I’m glad she’s started it. You can get up, take a walk at 9 a.m. and then get on with your day.
“I’d love to see more groups get together at places like the county parks,” she added. “I walk at Coonskin [Park], because it’s close to where I live. It’s close to town and a beautiful place to get out and breathe a little bit.”
West Virginia Walker Helen Matheny has been a proponent of healthy lifestyles for several years, so the new chapter is a comfortable fit for fitness that the South Charleston resident said she’d like to see expand beyond the EverWalk First Saturday events.
“I applaud Patti for starting the walking group, as I enjoy the camaraderie,” Matheny said. “I would love to see walking groups for all ages at all high school tracks where it is a safe place to walk daily. I would love to see more families involved.”
Former West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant participated in the September walk and hopes to join in more of them.
“I did a lot of walking this summer, and I wanted to do it for my health and conditioning and set an example to others and inclusion for others,” she said. “I really do want us to be more of a walking state, because some places don’t have sidewalks and lighted areas where people can do it at lunchtime or in the evening.
“I would love to have this expanding out of Charleston, because we have so many opportunities,” Tennant said. “We have such beauty everywhere. I think what Patti and the West Virginia Walkers are doing is great, showing people wherever you are, you can walk. You don’t have to make it this big, monumental thing — just go and walk, even if its a quarter-mile or a half-mile,” Tennant said.
The history of EverWalk
A competitive swimmer for decades, Nyad is renowned for becoming the first person to swim just under 111 miles between Havana, Cuba, and Key West, Florida, without the use of a shark cage, in just under 53 hours. Stoll was the expedition leader of the August/September 2013 swim, the then-64-year-old Nyad’s fifth attempt to conquer and complete the route.
Nyad and Stoll announced the formation of EverWalk in 2016. “The Cuba swim was an epic journey for me and my team,” Nyad said in a media statement. “I want the American public to have their own epic experience. That’s the soul of EverWalk. Each EverWalker, from 5k up to the whole, seven-day trek to virtual participants, will be part of the revolution to evolve us from a sedentary to a moving culture.”
“We all shared an epic experience during the years of chasing the Cuba Swim dream,” Stoll said in an email. “After we finally reached the other shore, Diana and I wondered how we could give that epic feeling to the masses. How could we do something with purpose, in the great outdoors, as a community. And EverWalk was born.”
Putting shoes to the ground in May 2018, on the fifth anniversary of Nyad’s historic swim, Nyad and Stoll welcomed and led a group of approximately 300 walkers on the inaugural “Epic” walk, traversing 134 miles along the California coastline, from Los Angeles to San Diego. Three sets of walkers took part: day trippers; virtual walkers, who walked in their own hometown; and epic walkers, who covered the entire course. (Nyad and Stoll still participate in many of the monthly L.A. area walks and other EverWalk events around the country.)
The second Epic walk also encompassed 134 miles, occurring in New England, another coastline walk that began in Boston and concluded in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. According to the EverWalk website, 150 walkers participated in the northeastern walk, all crossing, eventually, the designated “Achieve Line.”
Later walks have spanned further distances, attracting more participants, such as the weeklong Liberty Walk from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., and an “international” EverWalk Pacific Northwest trek from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to Seattle.
The EverWalk goal is to have a million people taking part in a cross-country walk from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in 2020.
“I used to say I was swimming over the curvature of the earth, imagining in that blue jewel of an ocean everything I could be,” Nyad said in an email. “Now we are leading people to walk the curvature of the earth, to look up at our azure sky and dream what it is they want to do with their lives.”
Taking the pledge
Also in May of last year, EverWalk launched its 110.86 Mile Club. Walkers who attain the distance, equating to the length of Nyad’s Cuba Swim, receive elite club status and the various incentives the achievement entails.
As with the West Virginia Walkers, becoming a “citizen” of the EverWalk Nation demands no memberships or signups. Requested, instead, is a pledge to walk a minimum of three times a week. Those who take the pledge receive information from the EverWalk organization regarding upcoming events, contests, challenges, incentives, connecting with fellow EverWalkers, training tips, inspirational messages from Nyad and Stoll and other perks.
“Just start with the pledge to walk three times a week. You don’t have to be an athlete. It’s free and it’s for everyone. If you’re in a chair, pledge to do the roll,” Stoll said in a June 2017 Washington Post article.
“Walking is an exercise you can do every single day,” Dr. Elizabeth L. Brown said recently at her South Charleston medical practice. “You can do things like weight training or intensive cardio, of course, but you may not want to do them every day.”
Brown also enumerated a few of the ancillary health benefits of regular walking. “It’s good for those who have arthritis,” she said. “By staying active, it can actually keep the cartilage and muscle tone in good shape. It helps the synovial fluids through the joints and that can reduce arthritis. Losing weight [through walking] can reduce pressure on joints. It can help with balance.
“Apart from the cardiovascular benefits,” Brown said, “it keeps cholesterol lower and is good for fighting wintertime depression.”
She also said a consultation with a health care provider is imperative before undertaking a walking regimen.
“Make sure you’re healthy enough before you get out there and try to be active,” Brown said. “Some people try to be a power walker when they haven’t taken 10 steps around their house in a while. I would recommend talking with a physician about transitioning into a physical activity.
“Some people do well on flat ground, some can do hills,” she said. “It’s important to keep a reasonable goal, maybe just 10 minutes a day at first. Do that for a little bit of time and work your way up. They should set a goal they can achieve and gradually add to it.”
As well as finding a walking partner for support, Brown said, a new walker can find methods of motivation in the comforts of home.
“If they have a treadmill, they can put a Netflix series on and watch it while they’re walking on it. That way, they pair a positive stimulus with something they might consider a little dull or that they really don’t want to do. It’s an incentive — you can’t watch another episode of a Netflix series unless you’re on the treadmill,” Brown said.
To get moving ...For additional information about the West Virginia Walkers, including the November First Saturday walk, direct email correspondence to Patti Hamilton at email@example.com or visit the “WV Walkers of the EverWalk Nation” Facebook page for a calendar of events, updates and other listings. More information about the West Virginia Walkers and the First Saturday walks are also posted and updated at eventbrite.com; search for the “EverWalk First Saturday Charleston” links.
Additional details regarding the EverWalk Nation initiative can be found online at everwalk.com.