I secretly wanted to become an Ambassador ever since I found out about EverWalk but thought I was an unworthy candidate. It just seemed daunting to me given severe and debilitating osteoarthritis in my right ankle, which is sometimes incapacitates me due to pain and resulting immobility.
After being a runner for over 40 years and completing 12 marathons, tons of half marathons and an untoward number of races and training runs, I was afraid that I’d left the best of my legs on the road to an unforgiving sport. But I can walk, as long as I don’t walk too fast or too long…
So when I read about the Epic New England walk 2 years ago – I was intrigued!
Diana Nyad and Bonnie Stoll and their team of merry EverWalkers marched right from my (then) hometown of Boston straight up North to the coast of Maine. And I thought, “Why didn’t I know about this?” I had just completed a 100 mile solo mediation walk in Spain on the Camino de Santiago covering up to 13 miles a day through mostly forests in Portugal and Spain, and that was my limit. The Epic Walkers covered upwards of 18-20 miles on some days. With an ankle like mine that just quits– I knew I’d be in for trouble if I even attempted an Epic EverWalk. But the camaraderie of the EverWalk community was palpable and called to me.
I’d been lurking on the EverWalk website and EverWalk Facebook page for a while when I saw Diana’s post announcing that she and Bonnie were going to be in Boston and invited all comers to walk 11 miles with them along the Charles River. To be honest, I just wanted to meet Diana and Bonnie, having been in awe of what they had accomplished for women, swimmers, athletes – everyone really! How often do you get the chance to meet a hero up close and personal?
I think the rest is history. I met and walked with Diana and Bonnie, moved back home to NYC, got a call from the EverWalk Ambassador Coordinator who made an astute observation from my walking posts and said: “We see you walking your dog in Central Park… would you like to be an EverWalk Ambassador?” Truthfully, I almost said no due to my physical limitations but I really wanted to be an Ambassador! I asked if I could lead walks in Central Park only and walk slowly for short distances of about 2-3 miles because I figured, I couldn’t possibly be the only person dealing with a compromising health condition. When I got the “Yes, that would work!” I exuberantly planned my first walk the very next week in July of 2019.
I named my group: Central Park (Easy) EverWalk, to distinguish it from the many other walking groups in New York City (NYC) which mainly focus on speed walking and training for long distances.
I think it’s not easy to get a walking group off the ground unless you already have a pre-existing relationship or connection to other walking and fitness enthusiasts, especially in a competitive place like New York City.
Nonetheless, here are some tips that have helped me:
My top two promotion strategies are Meetup.com and word of mouth from existing members. While Meetup is not free, it’s well worth it to me to pay the annual subscription fee as a donation to the EverWalk initiative so that members can walk for free. We now have a whopping 400 subscribers on Meetup in just 8 months – which yields a range of anywhere from 10-21 people at our weekly walks. Meetup is responsible for about 90 % of our membership.
Word of mouth from existing members is the next best recruitment strategy. (Read on for some of the ways that I try to keep members coming back.) The friendships that have been developed within the group have solidified a strong base of regular attendees. Members routinely bring friends, family members and even business clients as well as people from other Meetup walking groups to join us.
To a lesser degree the Neighbor app (which announces events to neighbors living in your zip code), Facebook, Evenbrite and other online local newspapers and calendars also help to promote our group. The Central Park (Easy) EverWalk is listed weekly on 7 online sites!
Switch it up!
I’ve become a little fanatical about researching all that Central Park has to offer. I like to go to places that people have never heard of before. I also invite guest member led walks to help engage a higher level of participation. Did you know that there are books about the secrets of Central Park?
I like to connect walks to current events and member interests. Some of our member destination faves within the park have been:
- The statue of Duke Ellington during Black History Month
- The whispering bench behind Belvedere Castle
- Four manmade Waterfalls in the idyllic North Woods
- The Seneca Village artifacts tour of the free black community that lived in Central Park before it was a park
- Shakespeare’s Garden
I like to keep things fun and memorable by giving away things! So far we’ve been able to give most participants a wristband, which has been a really big hit. Actually, former President, Bill Clinton, and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, have worn theirs! Other incentives include: the EverWalk back pack, a book on walking from an EverWalk member, an autographed copy Diana Nyad’s book, Central Park “tokens” earned through trivia challenges, and a beautiful Swarovski crystal bracelet with a silver sneaker donated by a friend (awarded to a member who attended 18 walks in a 5 month period.)
I regularly post pics and one on one video interviews of our walkers talking about why they like the group and what keeps them coming back. It’s so important to stay attentive and listen to what your members are talking about and to try to incorporate those ideas into the walk if possible. That’s how we got to the Conservatory Gardens and Fort Clinton with a real cannon! I also watch my members physically and check in with them periodically throughout each walk to see how they are doing. I make sure that our pace and terrain (hills, steps) are OK for them. And then there’s Phil our co-lead who keeps up our faithful sweep and makes sure that no one ever gets lost. He is a most valuable resource to our group. His role allows us to keep together the range of walkers at different paces.
But most of all, I like to think that I typically show up happy and ready to EverWalk.
Right now in New York City, we’ve had to take a break from our Central Park walks due to the statewide restrictions due to COVID-19. Although I’ve only been an EverWalk Ambassador for eight months, I miss my weekly walks with my new friends so much. I can’t wait to be able to get out with everyone again.
In the meantime, we’re all doing our best to stay in touch and encourage one another and reach out on the EverWalk Nation Facebook page, which is amazing. EverWalk has created lots of opportunities for virtual movment, and I’m encouraging everyone to stay healthy and to walk virtually when it’s safe.
We’re all looking forward to getting back out in the Park again. EverWalk really is a movement that is sweeping the nation — and if you look at any of our pictures, it really shows!
Ann Marie is a native New Yorker over the moon about returning home after 22 years working “abroad” in the Boston area. She’s made it her mission to plan exciting adventure walks with her faithful co-lead, Phil Kerins. Each Saturday you can find them trailblazing 2-3-mile adventures for the Central Park (Easy) Ever Walkers where you’ll meet an eclectic mix of returning regulars and newbies representing all the multi-cultural and ethnic diversity that NYC has to offer.
Ann Marie is a serial Greyhound adopter, having fallen in love after adopting her first retired racer 12 years ago. When not leading EverWalks or sauntering with her dog, Ozzie, Ann Marie works as a senior public health consultant for John Snow, Inc. She has managed non-profits as well as state and national government sponsored public health initiatives.
Ann Marie says: “If you want to discover the best kept secrets of Central Park – come walk with us!”