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Tacoma laces up and goes to school for annual Walk Series kickoff

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Health-conscious Tacomans honed body and mind on April 6 during Walk Tacoma’s kickoff event for the year. Participants threaded their way through Wright Park and around downtown, making a couple stops to familiarize themselves with the stories behind two of the city’s historic schools, Stadium High School and Central School.

“Every time I go, I learn something new,” said Pat Sposato, who walked the 1.7-mile route with about 250 others. “It’s very interesting.”

Walk Tacoma, now in its fifth year, is Downtown On the Go’s annual series of walking events, aimed at helping the public explore and learn about the different areas of downtown Tacoma.

Walks are held on the first Wednesday of every month, and are themed with a different focus each time.

This year’s kickoff, held on National Walking Day, included educational pieces by Dr. Josh Garcia of Tacoma Public Schools and Jonah Jensen of BLRB Architects. The two speakers split up the group and lead each half along the course to either of the two schools, where participants listened to a brief history of the building and took in some information before moving on to the next school.

Jensen was one of the architects responsible for the remodel of Stadium High School during 2005-06, when the building was renovated and expanded, and excitedly shared some of the nuances of the project.

“I could go on about his for hours and hours,” he joked, revealing his deep passion for his work.

During the talk, listeners learned about the high school’s original life as a hotel, the demolition of its upper levels, and the issues it faced with flooding.

Jensen, who has also been a board member for Downtown On the Go for four years, also talked about promoting awareness of what Walk Tacoma is and how it can grow.

“It’s all about creating that energy and that buzz, and people see ‘what’s that big group, what are they doing?’ They want to be part of it.”

Meagan Kula, event manager for Downtown On the Go, echoed similar sentiments.

“This has been the largest program we offer,” she said, “with over 1,250 participants in last year’s series.”

Although it started small, with just 10 participants in the first walk, the series has kept up a strong pace over the years, and has grown accordingly.

“The event has never been cancelled. Weather impacts our attendance, for sure, but people come, rain or shine,” said Kula.

Downtown On the Go has crafted a number of partnerships for the events in an effort to start meaningful dialogue and impact the community.

American Heart Association, which considers National Walking Day one of its icon days, was one of two collaborators for the kickoff, along with Metro Parks Tacoma.

“We really just want to promote the importance of being physically active,” said Donna Burns, the Heart Walk Director for AHA.

She stressed that moderate physical activity has been shown to improve health dramatically – just 30 minutes a day, five days a week, is enough to lower blood pressure and help control diabetes.

For those just starting out, the monthly walks are an opportunity to get together with friends or strangers and make a new physical activity into a fun and educational social event.

Also new this year by AHA is a way to participate online: anyone who walked on April 6 can “donate” their minutes walked by posting them to social media with the hashtag #AHALaceUp. The goal nationally is to accumulate 100,000 minutes walked.

“We want people to lace up for their heart health and get moving,” said Burns. “This is an opportunity for you to really change your life.”

Beyond the individual mental and physical benefits to the walks, Kula expanded on some of the community benefits she hopes the program will inspire.

“It is a great way to reach out to the community and encourage people to walk and connect them with our community. We will continue to provide the Walk series and collaborate with other organizations… to all work together, because we are trying to make a more walkable community.”

The year’s overall series sponsor is the Puyallup Watershed Initiative, which will be working with Walk organizers on a number of side projects, including an effort to create better walking routes for schools.

“Puyallup Water Initiative is spearheading that and working with the school district to create a safe routes to school program,” she said.

She said the program gets ample input from students who are on the board and working as staff for the organization.

For newcomers, the monthly walks in Tacoma are free and require no registration. Participants are simply asked to come meet up at the predetermined starting location.

Next month’s walk, on May 4 at 5:15 p.m., starts outside the Pantages Theatre at South 9th and Broadway, and focuses on The Old Spaghetti Factory.

More information can be found at Downtown On the Go’s website.