Starkville FitWalk participants accept the GoRuck Cooler Challenge, taking turns transporting a loaded cooler a distance of 3 miles June 29. Carrying the cooler are, in front, Sandie Swisher and David Harned; and in back, Megan Moorhead and Thomas Dolese. In the background are, from left, Nan Donohoe, Jennifer Schilling and Wes Schilling. Walking and rucking group members meet up one to three times weekly to walk, often with rucksacks, or backpacks. Photo by: Courtesy photo
"Sweaty selfies," like this one taken at Chadwick Lake in Starkville, are a badge of accomplishment and often posted after FitWalk enthusiasts meet up. From left are Ardra Morgan, Stephanie Green, Karli Gama, Kim Roberts and Clay Roberts.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
Many carrying rucksacks, walkers Daniel Walters, David Harned, Karli Gama, Nan Donohoe, Shanti Bhushan, Ojash Bushan, Namita Sinha, Carmen Kay Kelly and Kim Roberts are ready to get going June 22 in Starkville.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
July 6, 2019 9:59:45 PM
A Monday post on the FitWalk Facebook page read, "We maxed out the sweat-o-meter today, 3.5 miles and lots of sunshine on farm roads. It takes courage (or something ... ?) to do this in July -- in Mississippi."
Whatever the "something" is, FitWalk -- a free community walking and rucking group in Starkville -- is finding more and more people with it. David Harned is the founding force behind these enthusiasts who recently added a new twist to their meetups -- rucking.
Rucking has been used by the military to train soldiers since the American Revolution. Soldiers march with rucksacks, the military term for a backpack, loaded with gear. The weighted ruck provides an aerobic workout while simultaneously providing strength training. Adopted and adapted by FitWalk and groups like it, it's significant exercise that targets several key areas of fitness at the same time. And it's creating a community in Starkville.
"At least once a week, we do a minimum 3-mile walk, and I welcome anybody who wants to walk -- walk fast, walk slow," said Harned, who is also a personal trainer at Starkville Athletic Club. "We only started rucking about two months ago, and I encourage people to bring a rucksack and add a little more resistance, a little more challenge. ... We have people who have (back carriers) they put their child in, we have people who bring strollers. We have young people all the way to retirement age."
FitWalk is generating traction, drawing interest from Columbus and other parts of the Golden Triangle. Several members have begun walking Mondays and Wednesdays, in addition to Saturdays. And in June, FitWalk gained a sponsor in GoRuck, an American sporting equipment company based in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.
"Our participants include people of all shapes, sizes, abilities and fitness levels," said walker Kim Roberts of Starkville. "We are all so different, but through this group we feel a connection to each other and a commitment to self-improvement."
Roberts, 40, initially got involved in FitWalk some time ago to relax, decompress and socialize.
"It helped manage the stress of finishing grad school," she said. "I knew walking had health benefits but didn't fully appreciate its capacity to build muscle strength and endurance. After we walk, I feel refreshed and refocused. It's like a mental reboot."
After recently seeing Harned and others carrying packs, Roberts decided to incorporate it into her walks.
"We cover a long distance, so I cautiously started with a small amount of weight. Experts suggest starting with about 10 percent of body weight. I threw a few bottles of water in a bag and that's how it began."
She's been surprised at how the addition of the rucksack engages different muscle groups and increases the physical demands of doing something as simple as walking.
There are other benefits: In the age of social media, FitWalk revives personal interaction. Yes, the group uses social media to announce upcoming walks and to share "sweaty selfies," but "the walks themselves are about real conversations and sharing," Roberts said. And a hometown looks different when seen "on foot."
"We view things from a new perspective and see things that we never noticed before," she added.
FitWalk's June 29 meetup was different from any other. GoRuck issued a Cooler Ruck Challenge: carry a loaded cooler at least 3 miles. Participants took turns.
"It was absolutely a team effort!" Roberts said. "We were strategizing, cooperating and learning from start to finish. The challenge taught us about problem-solving and asking for help. Those skills apply in any setting."
The Cooler Challenge has inspired some ideas -- like the possibility of walkers filling rucksacks with supplies for the animal shelter and delivering them on foot. Or likewise, rucking with packs filled with donations to drop off at a food pantry.
"That way, we're not just walking for ourselves but for the community," Roberts remarked.
Those showing up to FitWalk have some amazing motivations, Harned observed.
Ardra Morgan joined about one month ago after finding the group on Facebook.
"In the past five years, I had a weight problem and I lost 150 pounds by just walking and some running. But at 59, running is sort of out for me," she said. "When I started reading about rucking, I learned you can use more calories by adding weight -- and it doesn't have to be a lot of weight."
Morgan also likes the idea of walking in a group for added safety, socializing and support.
"It kind of keeps you accountable," she said. "It's very inclusive. We're always checking on each other while we're walking. We laugh, we encourage each other to just get out there and move. Anybody can do it."
Mississippi State graduate student Karli Gama moved from the Seattle area to Starkville in May. An avid hiker, she "jumped at the chance" to join a walking group. The 46-year-old is enthusiastic about rucking and carries the backpack she often used hiking on Mount Rainier. FitWalk helps her get acquainted with her new community.
"It seems like every time I go I'm meeting someone new. I'd like to see it grow, and I think David is doing a great job of making it accessible to anyone."
Roberts remarked, "It's harder to make friends as you get older, and the camaraderie is awesome. As we participate in more walks together, the group members start to feel like family."
FitWalk is making strides in its mission to inspire, promote and support walking and rucking, and to strengthen the community through social fitness.
"Everyone can walk, and everyone can ruck," Harned said. "It's fun, and it brings people together."
Editor's note: Follow FitWalk at facebook.com/groups/fitwalkstarkville/.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.