Summer walking challenge is under way

Lindsay Steele
Summer Walking Program participants take a stroll June 5 in Davenport. Five parishes in Scott County are participating in the annual fitness challenge.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Parishioners from five parishes in Scott County are lacing their walking shoes and hitting the pavement for the annual Summer Walking Program. The event kicked off July 2 and concludes July 30. The participating parishes are Our Lady of Lourdes and St. John Vianney in Bettendorf, Sacred Heart Cathedral and St. Paul the Apostle in Davenport and Our Lady of the River in LeClaire.

Patty Riefe, parish nurse for Lourdes and Sacred Heart Cathedral, said the Summer Walking Program is a longtime tradition. “I have been doing it since I started here as a parish nurse seven years ago. The program was started by Cathy Thennes when she was the parish nurse.”

The walk challenges parishioners to compete by accumulating “steps” for physical activity. “We even have a traveling Golden Tennis Shoe trophy that goes to the winning church. The friendly challenge makes it fun and gives us an incentive to help our individual parishes.”


Riefe said the goal is to encourage parishioners to get out and exercise, especially in the summer when the weather is great. “As a parish nurse, I believe it is important to encourage all aspects of health — spiritual, emotional, mental and physical. Exercise can improve our physical health, as well as our spiritual, emotional and mental health by allowing an outlet for stress and tension.”

Debbie Giganti, the walking program’s volunteer coordinator for St. Paul the Apostle Parish, said, “Obviously walking is great for everyone especially as we get older. It is not so much about winning as it is about motivation and a short-term commitment.” Parishioners can even count their steps while on vacation.

“Although it is a competition among parishes, I would like to see as many parishioners sign up to participate even if they are not 10,000 steps-a-day walkers. Just commit to adding steps to each day. Also, there are conversions for biking and other activities,” she noted.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the walking program was virtual, Riefe said. Parishioners signed up by email and emailed their total steps at the end of the month. This year, Lourdes has 55 participants and Sacred Heart has 37. “This year sign-up was in person again, before and after the Masses. This made it easier for parishioners to sign up and get into the spirit of the challenge,” she said.

The program has evolved over the years. “It used to be 8-10 weeks, but we gradually shortened the time frame to make it easier for those going on vacation and such,” Riefe said. “We picked July because so many people do the Bix (a seven-mile run) or RAGBRAI (a bicycle ride across Iowa) and that really boosts everyone’s steps.”

At sign up, participants receive a packet with instructions, a log sheet to track their steps, a step conversion chart and other information on healthy eating and exercise. “We used to log our step totals each week on a large board at church, but when COVID came we weren’t able to do that. Now we just have them give their grand total number of steps at the end of the month. Parishioners seem to like this better, especially with summer and traveling,” Riefe said. Potential participants must sign up with their parish by July 10 to have their steps counted.

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