The coronavirus pandemic has wiped out countless events and altered many more since March.
But wellness coordinators from the FLASHP consortium have had their fingers on the pulse of their communities and came up with virtual alternatives.
The following is a look at how some districts handled walk and run challenges while staying at home.
Project director Valerie Fanning grew up playing soccer and basketball in the district, but never got into running until the wellness team and coach Justin Stenglein coaxed her into running a 5K. She is on board with running, and now the school has an annual 5K challenge for students. They practice and compete for events such as Moore than a Race, Reindeer Run, Flower City Challenge, Lilac Run and Glow Walk & Run. High school students serve as mentors for the elementary school runners, and students wear Sodus RUN shirts like they are badges of honor.
But it was not meant to be in 2020.
Instead, youth advocate Ed Rose and other physical education teachers got together and came up with a plan as they organized a virtual 5K race, which drew 35 runners.
“We felt that we had to do something from home during the pandemic to keep them active,” Fanning says.
Staff, parents and students took part in the virtual race. For a portion of the summer, the school also used a Google classroom to promote summer fitness using high- and low-intensity workout programs for both students and the staff.
“The biggest challenge during the pandemic is not being able to connect with all our students,” Fanning says. “It’s been real hard not seeing them or running with them. We are sad we missed the Lilac race but we are already planning on hosting a Glow Walk & Run as soon as we can.”
At the Ellis B. Hyde Elementary School in the Dansville Central District, library media specialist Emily Wolf, a former English teacher, dedicated herself to fitness to help her cope with the stress of teaching.
She helped form a group of 14 district employees and one retiree to compete in the One NY Challenge, which is a virtual run across the state of New York to benefit COVID-19 relief in the state.
“Some of us chose to do the 500K option, which was from Buffalo to Albany, while a few brave souls took on the 1,000K option, from Buffalo to Long Island,” Wolf says. “Some members of the team were walking the distance, others were running, and a few, such as myself, were doing both. We started the challenge on May 15 and we had to complete the distance by Aug. 31. All of us were on track to be done well before then.”
That hard work deserves some celebration, and Wolf says the plan was to celebrate upon the return to school in the fall. The team is also thinking of entering another challenge in the fall. Wolf found the time off during the pandemic to be off-putting.
“The biggest challenge for me during the pandemic was the lack of structure to my time,” she says. “Aside from working my regular school hours, I suddenly had all this time on my hands to do anything. While this seemed like a great thing, it also made me a little more lazy and prone to procrastinate. I solved this by scheduling during-the-day walking breaks with my dogs to get in some regular movement and break up the day.”
The Keshequa Central School District was thinking big when it set up its running challenge during the pandemic. But big wasn’t big enough. It also thought bigger.
The district held a virtual marathon challenge for two weeks in which runners could participate in a super marathon (52 miles/3.71 miles per day) or an ultra marathon (104 miles/7.43 per day).
Participants posted their daily total mileage and could walk or run their miles.
Todd Isaman, a physical education teacher who played two sports at SUNY Brockport and several sports before college, helped head up this project and was happy with the results.
“Almost every person reached their goal,” he says. “It was amazing and made us all think about our activity level and gave us something to do with our families.”
Todd’s wife, Carrie Isaman, was in a category of her own as she went beyond the ultra-marathon parameters and racked up 127 miles in the two-week time frame. Katie Weiss turned in a monster performance when she logged 20.75 miles in one day.
The lack of seeing participants on a day-to-day and face-to-face basis was tough for the organizers of the marathons.
“Organizing the event was probably the hardest part, as everything was through e-mail,” Todd Isaman says.
Isaman says he would like to have a few more fitness events in the future but is taking a wait-and-see strategy on how they will be handled.
“I’m not sure where we are going next,” he says. “We will see what happens in the near future.”
Newark Central School District wellness coordinator Robyn Monahan says that the Laurel House 5K has been a huge fundraiser for a comfort care home for residents of Wayne County.
In the past, the early June event has racked up close to $10,000 each year for the facility, which helps families with terminally sick relatives. In 2019, Monahan also used the race to prepare for a marathon she had planned to run a few months later.
The pandemic forced organizers to cancel the race, but they rolled the dice and hosted a virtual 5K. The results were good, according to Monahan.
“Our district responded wonderfully and our numbers stayed high,” Monahan says. “We had a great staff response and promoted a healthy activity, all while raising money for a great cause.”
Monahan adds that fundraising reminders were done by email sign ups. Race packets were collected by drive-through pickup. She admits that despite the success of the virtual 5K, fitness is not always easy when people are ordered to stay in.
“It’s really easy to become less active when you are working from home,” she says. “So, encouraging healthy activities during quarantine has been a challenge for some.”
Getting the word out, however, has not been as big of a challenge for Monahan.
“Even before the pandemic, my main source of reaching the staff was through email,” she says. “So, during this time, it has stayed the same. Our staff has continued to have access to emails at home.”
Wellness coordinator Alyson Powers played softball and soccer in high school and is a swimming coach in the district, so she has a pretty good grasp on the importance of fitness. But when the pandemic hit, Powers thought the best way to keep staff members involved with staying in shape was not to go too wild. Less was more, as far as she was concerned.
“During the pandemic, I did not want to overwhelm my staff,” she says. “We focused on mental health, sending positive thoughts and creating the wellness walking challenge.”
The Naples staffers used the 31 days in May to run a Marathon a Month project, and prizes were offered in three categories.
Marathoners were those who logged 26.2 miles in May and were entered a raffle for a gift card as a local business. The Mini-Ultra Marathoners were those who totaled 52.4 miles and were entered into a raffle drawing for a gift card and T-shirt. The Ultra-Marathoners were those who hit triple digits – 100 or more miles – and were eligible for a Fitbit.
While those sound like big numbers, an Ultra-Marathoner was averaging 3.2 miles per day over the course of the event. Marathoners averaged less than a mile per day.
The future of face-to-face fitness events is hazy everywhere, but Powers says she plans on using Zoom, Instagram and Twitter for communication for 2021 goals. On social media, the district uses the hashtags #napleswellness and #napleswalkingchallenge.
Livonia had big plans for the second running of Employee Palooza, which included wellness events and an employee and family picnic.
The pandemic forced Palooza director Robbin Carll and her staff to eliminate the picnic, but they kept the spirit of the wellness portion alive and had virtual activities scheduled from June 2-7. Those included a 5K or 1-mile run/walk. More than 375 registered, and they all received T-shirts.
Participants had several options. They could do traditional running, jogging, walking or hiking. They also had the option of using distances gained from walking or running on a treadmill. Those who participated in other virtual events during that time frame were also welcomed to share those distances and times in this event.
Participants ran their events at their own pace and timed themselves.
Carll, an avid runner who has completed three marathons in her career and is a member of a running group called the Mendonites, had more plans in the works during the pandemic.
“We will use a variety of technology to support our employee wellness initiative including email and newsletters, and will consider using Zoom and other tech,” she says. “With our school reopening so uncertain, we know that we will be flexible and do our best to keep people involved. If we are allowed, we could do small group classes at a distance — with a little creative planning and offering repeated sessions of the same topic, this could work.”