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  • Tom Hanlon

An App for All Seasons

Updated: Jul 27

My wife sent me a text last week to let me know that Rhythm and Roots had been cancelled due to COVID-19. What a hard decision that must have been. The paper said that this amazing music festival generated $16 million for the local economy in 2015. I was left thinking of all the businesses and organizations that would feel the hurt of this cancellation. Selfishly, my family and I would miss the highlight of our year. I have been to every Rhythm and Roots festival since the first one. This is big blow to Bristol.


COVID-19 has caused so much stress and hardship for our community. With people being laid off, the United Way and other agencies have responded by increasing their ability to meet the needs of people in our area. Food, shelter, health and cleaning supplies have all been in demand.


Generous people in our area have responded to the need through increased giving, through volunteering and through making local purchasing a priority. This crisis has brought out the best in people who see that the health and well being of our community demands action and a willingness to be generous with time and money.


At River’s Way, we have used this time to lay the groundwork for a community-wide virtual walking campaign that is already making a big difference in the lives of young people with differing abilities. This campaign, if it continues on its current path, will also make a big difference in the overall quality of life in Bristol. I say this because we feel that our walking challenge is one answer to the challenges presented by COVID-19. The River’s Way Walking Challenge is good for individuals who take part in it, it’s good for our participants with differing abilities and it’s good for our community. We need good things to happen now and walking is one of those good things.


What good things are we seeing with this challenge? First, the challenge encourages people of all abilities to come together in a supportive community using Under Amour’s free MapMyWalk app. With each MapMyWalk walk the map of your walk (or run) is posted for other group members to see. You end up feeling accountable and you want to be consistent and follow through with your walking. It’s also nice to get encouraging comments from fellow group members and it’s especially nice to see the photos that other people take during their walks. All of this is posted through the MapMyWalk app.


For River’s Way participants with differing abilities, our Game Changers as we call them, the community feel is vital. In our afternoon Zoom meetings, we continually check in with the Game Changers in order to go over their walking progress. We also use the MapMyWalk app to post comments on their workouts so they get encouragement, and in some cases correction, on a continual basis. Then we reward our participants with $10 checks at the end of each month if they have met their walking goal for the month. The combination of checks and virtual support has led to surprising results. We are seeing people who rarely walked at home now walking for at least 30 minutes at a time most days of the week. River’s Way participants are walking in parks, on their streets, around their houses, at school tracks and even inside their houses. One participant, who once used a wheel chair take her around Dollywood, just mapped a 3.1 mile walk in the midst of hot summer weather!


In addition to the community building benefit of the walking challenge, there are benefits related to the higher levels of physical activity that nearly every participant is experiencing. All of us need to be more physically active (33% of adults ages 18-64 in Sullivan County don’t exercise at all) and the MapMyWalk app encourages and motivates us to be more active. I know I now feel compelled to walk every day, and sometimes twice a day, no matter what the weather or what my schedule might be. Physical activity is incredibly important for all of us and it’s doubly important for people with differing abilities since they are more likely to lead sedentary lives. It is especially gratifying, then, to see how much walking our participants are doing.


We are building up a sizeable walking community with close to 100 people being involved. Members of both Bristol Rotary clubs, teachers, relatives, friends, River’s Way board members, people from other states… it’s encouraging to see how this is taking off! Once we iron out any glitches, we plan to run a community wide campaign with people with differing abilities leading the way, encouraging people from all walks of life to join in.


In the midst of COVID-19 we are fortunate to have come upon the MapMyWalk app and the opportunity it provides to build an inclusive walking community through the River’s Way Walking Challenge. Walking outside or in one’s home is a low risk activity, it doesn’t cost much and it can be done most anywhere as River’s Way participants have shown. We would love to see more people join us! Being part of the River’s Way Walking Challenge helps you to feel connected socially. The days are more productive and structured. You feel better physically, mentally and emotionally. And perhaps most importantly, you become a member of an inclusive community that encourages us to grow as individuals while contributing to the overall quality of life in our region!


I would invite anyone who wishes to join in our challenge and experience these benefits first hand to sign up by going to https://riversway.dm.networkforgood.com/forms/join-our-mapmywalk-walking-group.


Written by Tom Hanlon - Executive Director


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River's Way 

1227 Volunteer Pkwy Bristol, TN 37620

Matt@riversway.org                         Tom@riversway.org 

(423)-715-0085                                   (423)-612-1242