Start a walking club: The New Albany experience

It's often been said that having an idea is easy, but very few people bring their ideas to fruition. The New Albany Walking Club, while the result of an idea, is in actuality a work in progress.

How it all began

It was the summer of 2003 when I began experiencing knee pain during my runs. Never mind that I had been a runner for more than 30 years and never had an injury. However, common sense pushed me toward seeing one of my orthopedic friends, who proceeded to order an MRI. The next day, the news came back. Arthritis was setting in and I was told that if I continued to run, I would be a candidate for new knees...absolutely devastating news for a competitive marathoner. The day after being told not to run, I put on my ASICS and went out for a walk to think about my next steps -- no pun intended. Angry about my diagnosis, I began to walk fast. And before I knew it, I had a highly elevated heart rate and was working hard. Suddenly, it dawned on me that perhaps I found a substitute for running.

I continued walking for a number of days until I realized I had come across something most unusual. Why run when walking produces just about the same benefits? But what came next was more unanticipated. One of my friends joined me for walks. Within two weeks, three additional walkers joined. Then the light illuminated. If so many people walk, why not start a walking club.

Factors to consider

It's one thing to walk with a group of people informally, but it's another ballgame when instituting something more formal. The process I am about to share with you is a reflection of my own experiences, and by no means should it be applied as a blueprint for everyone starting a walking club.

Factor 1: Establish a purpose.
I wanted to provide an opportunity to promote individual, family and community health through walking. Also, I wanted to provide a venue in which people could walk for recreation as well as competition (not necessarily racewalking, although that is always an option) and at the same time elevate the status of walking.

Factor 2: Have a system whereby people walk with others.
Once the walking club is initiated, there must be a way to recruit and maintain members. I implemented a planned walking schedule. We met at selected times and had planned routes with set distances to walk, which eventually included timed workouts. Those wishing to be more competitive had the option to do so, but the rule-of-thumb we implemented was that no person shall walk alone during a workout.

Factor 3: Associate with a community business, and use grants to provide club members with rewards for walking with the group.
To recruit and maintain members, there must be camaraderie as well as "things" that provide members a sense of belonging and therefore promote unity. Understanding this, I approached our local hospital about what we were doing. Associating with a health entity was most important as this was commensurate with our goals. I was able to secure funding that enabled us to purchase shirts and windbreakers, and the sponsor had their name screened on the items.

Branding is important, so the jackets and shirts I purchased were -- as the name of the color indicates -- screaming yellow. But our club soon began to take on its own identity. Yes, we are acknowledged as human highlighters and certainly people notice us. But what also resulted is our members began to take pride in the fact that they were the talk of the community and that others thought our group was something they wanted to be a part of. And so, our numbers grew.

Factor 4: Implement projects that members are motivated to participate in.
To foster the value of belonging to a club, employ projects in which members can take pride. For the New Albany Walking Club, it was implementing a walking-only race. Using the many talents of our members, the club held a highly successful race and at the same time, supported a number of charitable causes from the race proceeds. The race showcased the contributions the club was making to the community and as a result, membership increased significantly. However, it is important to note that there are many projects a club can undertake, and the New Albany 10K Walking Classic is but one example.

A final thought

Keeping people motivated to walk is integral to the ongoing success of a walking club. This means constant communication with club members. Sending weekly e-mail news flashes, acknowledging the accomplishments of members during workouts and races, developing workout plans for members and sharing walking-related health tidbits such as how walking can help reduce cardiovascular health risks all play a significant role in the success of a walking club. While the work may be time-consuming, it is especially rewarding.

Phil Heit is executive director of the New Albany Walking Club. The New Albany Walking Club has successfully hosted The New Albany Walking Classic 10K for two years. For more information on The New Albany Walking Club visit

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