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Walking project participants reach the moon in 43 days

August 30, 2018

Greater Huntington Walks kicked off its initiative to register enough community-walked miles to stretch to the moon with a community walk on July 17 in downtown Huntington. Walkers met their goal around 8 p.m. Tuesday, hitting the mark four months earlier than anticipated.

HUNTINGTON — Reaching the moon, even in a metaphorical sense, may at first have seemed like an otherworldly goal when the Greater Huntington Walks campaign kicked off July 17.

But just 43 days later, walking to the moon seemed almost too easy for the collective power of more than 2,300 step-counting participants — three times the estimated 750 walkers needed for the program to reach its goal of amassing enough steps to walk to the moon by Dec. 31.

It’s a staggering 238,900 miles away (approximately 478 million steps), but Greater Huntington Walks reached the moon around 8 p.m. Tuesday after walking an average of 11 million steps per day and hitting the mark four months earlier than anticipated.

Greater Huntington Walks was launched to promote a change of culture in the Huntington area, organizer Andy Fischer explained — to rebuild the existing perception of the area as riddled with poor health and drug addiction. Instead, the program set the lofty goal of walking to the moon to prove a point: that the people of this area truly want to improve their lives and image.

“I never dreamed we would have as many participating,” Fischer said of the response. “It tells me that we as a community want to succeed, we want to be successful and we want to be shown in a better light than what we have been.

“And the people have responded.”

Small stories in the bigger goal

The grand vision of energizing the community toward self-improvement is seen microcosmically in the individual stories of those logging their steps each day.

When the community walk kickoff event began in mid-July, Valerie Blankenship went to Pullman Square with her team from the Autism Services Center in Huntington, but ducked out of the actual walk when it started. She wasn’t the walking type, in her words, and would regularly take the closest parking spots possible and bypass the stairs for the elevator at work.

Now, the 51-year-old secretary averages between 7,500 and 10,000 steps per day and has lost almost 12 pounds this summer. The Wayne County native now spends the bulk of her lunch breaks walking downtown and even hiked 1.5 miles up to the overlook at Beech Fork State Park for the first time in her life.

“It’s just something that has changed my perspective on walking/′ Blankenship said. “It clears my mind when I walk, and it’s very refreshing for me to see other people and families out walking.

“You hear so many bad things about Huntington all the time, so to be able to see the good things and promote something good about Huntington is a really big deal.”

Though she’s now become the one to crack the whip on her co-workers for forgetting to log their steps online, Blankenship doesn’t see it as a competition between her and any other individual, but rather her versus what she did yesterday in a constant drive to be better.

“If everyone just takes that approach to just be 1 percent better than what they were the day before in any capacity of their life, it makes a positive impact,” Fischer added.

Among the more than 2,300 walkers representing over 170 different teams, the current leader is 65-year-old Sherry Russell, of Catlettsburg, Kentucky, one of just four participants to have logged more than 1 million steps herself in the competition so far.

Russell, a retiree working part time at Cabell Huntington Hospital, averages around 20,000 steps each day — though she strives for 30,000 — walking for between three and five hours per day.

“I’m really a competitive person, so I first tried to catch up to the leader of our group (at Cabell Huntington Hospital),” Russell said in a phone interview Wednesday as she walked laps through her house. “After that, I just kept raising my goal.”

Russell began walking through Weight Watchers after retiring in November 2016 and simply channeled that energy into Greater Huntington Walks. While her most explosive day in the contest was a 10-and-a-half-hour, 27-mile marathon walk, she most often simply turns little chores into extra steps to supplement her regular regiment.

“There’s a lot more people like I am, and a lot more competitive than me,” Russell said. “It’s encouraging to see more people get out and walk.”

Next steps

Fischer stressed the importance of keeping up momentum beyond the moon as Greater Huntington Walks develops ever grander plans for 2019 — though no final goals have been set. For now, the goal for the rest of the year is to “walk back” from the moon, which Fischer predicted would take even fewer than 43 days with all the momentum the program has gathered.

With bigger plans ahead, Fischer mentioned reaching out to Cabell County Schools and Marshall University — neither of which were in session for most of the program—to loop in faculty and students* steps.

The program uses Walker Tracker, an online step-counting service, to track and record an individual’s steps throughout the day, which can be done automatically through most smart devices like Fitbits, Apple Watches and iPhones. Analog pedometers may also be used and entered into the database manually online or through a mobile app. The program also counts other physical activities, such as swimming, biking and other athletics, converting those into steps.

Prizes and incentives will be given to the individuals and teams who participate in the program and reach different milestones. Once an individual or team hits a milestone, they will win a prize and be entered into a quarterly drawing for a bigger prize like a Fitbit, Apple Watch or gym membership.

For more information or to register for free, visit www.greaterhuntingtonwalks.com or Greater Huntington Walks on Facebook.

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