Creative ways to Engage a Community

tRAILConcerns about rising levels of obesity and cardiovascular disease have led to a considerable amount of attention to how the built environment can be designed to create more opportunities for physical activity.  I’ve said it before, ones address can play an important role in how long we live and how healthy we are. The physical design of a community affects our health every time we step out the front door.

As I have gotten more involved in Community Health Initiatives I have had the chance to meet and explore a lot of great community projects such as the Atlanta BeltLine, Carrollton Greenbelt, Active Living Spartanburg South Carolina and the Team of Mules in Maury County Tennessee.

Community Health is a concept that has been around a long time but we have seen a tremendous amount of energy and concentration within the past couple years, and it starts with the built environment.  The Built Environment meaning green spaces and trails or sometimes the lack-off.

Take for example the Atlanta BeltLine and what it means for the community of Atlanta – a 22 miles HISTORIC rail corridor being converted into a multi-use path.  Now add unique technology elements from Social Media Platforms, Daily Tracking Devices, Virtual Maps and Gamification and one can only imagine how creative this can become in rewarding the community for being healthy.

When I launched the Running Series for the BeltLine back in 2010 I had crazy ideas around mingling technology into the picture, basically a way to socially connect participants with community events and reward their accomplishments.  In the second year we had a lot of prizes where participants could redeem their points for merchandise, such as a free case of vitamin water from WholeFoods or tickets to an upcoming Ballet – it was real cool.

So we expanded out and started talking with a lot of other communities and uncovered some real cool things going on, for example:

In Maury County Tennessee nearly one third of the population is considered obese and even more are overweight. This has prompted the Wellness & Aquatics Complex to encourage change in the community.

teamofmulesMule Day has been a long time running tradition that attracts over 200,000 people annually. The Mule Kick 5K in recent years has also become a staple of the Mule Day traditions, with 870 participants running last year’s race and growing every year. The Wellness & Aquatics Complex decided to expand this effort further and propose a three month challenge to Maury County to lose a team of mules (8 mules= 8,000 pounds) by Mule Day.

Another recent example is Tanner Health System in Carrollton Georgia as they were a recipient of a Community Transformation Grant from the CDC for over $1Million.  Community Transformation Grants are handed out to Non Profits focused on community development initiatives.  They set up a community wide weight loss challenge and a list of fitness events.  They also have their own version of the Atlanta BelgreenbelttLine – a 16 mile trail being developed in the community – The Carrollton GreenBelt.

The Carrollton GreenBelt is a 16-mile trail system designed for pedestrians and non-motorized uses. Once it is complete, the trail will connect existing neighborhoods with the city school campus, the University of West Georgia, the city parks, and several commercial shopping areas. The Carrollton GreenBelt is the largest greenspace and greenway conservation project that the City of Carrollton has undertaken.

Yet another great program is occurring in South Carolina, Partners for Active Living transforms Spartanburg County, South Carolina into a vibrant, healthy, connected community. The history of the organization dates to 1996 when a study commissioned by local leaders called Healthy Spartanburg found cardiovascular disease and obesity to be among the greatest health risks facing Spartanburg. Partners for Active Living, which was originally called Heartwise, was created to help address the problem. In 2003, the organization changed its name and shifted its focus to address the root causes of cardiovascular disease: physical inactivity and poor nutrition.

PALPartners for Active Living frames takes a three pronged approach, which all point to healthy eating and active living: childhood obesity prevention, trail development, walking and bicycling for everyone.

Within each of the three focus areas, they address the following:

  • Places to be healthy and active
  • Programs that encourage activity
  • Policies that sustain our work over the long term
  • Partnerships that build a strong network of support for a healthy community

These are all amazing examples of organizations that are leading the way to healthier communities and creating fun challenges to engage participation. A common element all these initiatives have are new trails/greenspaces and of course some sort of web presence or reliance on technology — or better stated they are all trying to figure out the best way to use technology to create ‘sustained’ engagement in the community.  In a future blog we will talk more about how technology will play a pivotal role with these initiatives.

Aging with Vitality

Recently I had the privilege of presenting awards at the Mayor’s Conference hosted by the Georgia Municipal Association.  The awards ceremony occurred over lunch and while I was sitting at my table greeting everybody the gentlemen to my right, Tommy Smallwood from Wilkinson County Georgia, was telling me about his bad habits with running, or stated differently how much he loves running.  Wilkinson is a small county south of Atlanta near Macon Georgia with a population of roughly 9500 where Kaolin mining and processing is the principal industry. The valuable white clay is used in many manufacturing products including paper, paint, rubber, make-up and medicines. Nonetheless, its ironic how I meet runners everywhere I go or is it because there are so many of us, there are 40 Million runners in the US, according to runners world.

wilkinsonSo I was excited to meet Tommy who is a Council Member from Southern Georgia that loves running so of course I had to hear more about his accomplishments.  He’s been a council member for 20 years and running even longer, so I settled into lunch and got to know Tommy.

I asked Tommy why he started running, Tommy replied “I started running because I was very competitive, in fact I use to race motorcycles but I couldn’t get sponsored so I started to run instead.

Tommy went on to tell me that he has completed 9 Marathons – St George – UTAH being the most enjoyable and he came close to qualifying for Boston, within 4 Minutes.  He went on to share with me his accomplishments:


Macon, GA.  11/29/1980   – Time:     3:44:00cherry_blossom

Savannah, Ga. 1/10/1981    – Time    3:57:57

Macon, GA.   1/6/1990        – Time: 3:50:54

Pensacola, Fla. 2/24/1990   – Time:  3:35:32

Jacksonville, Fla.  1/5/1991   – Time:  3:52:18

Savannah, Ga. 2/6/1993        – Time:  4:06:52

Nashville, Tenn.  3/18/95     – Time: 4:04:09

St. George, Utah, 10/7/1995   – Time: 3:34:58

Kiawah, Island South Carolina 12/14/1996  – 3:54:57

So I asked Tommy what inspired him to run, Tommy replied, “I love to be outdoors and exercise, no matter if the weather is 30 or 115 degrees, to stay in shape so I can run road races or run with my Grand Kids and friends.  The best reason is it gives me the time to Pray and talk to my GOD, my Savior, and my best FRIEND in the world! It also makes me more relaxed and so THANKFUL for all of life.”

Tommy went on to tell me, “I was 38 years old when I started running on April 2nd, 1977. I ran 1 mile for my first recorded run in a time of 8:33. My last  recorded run time and distance was 3.1 miles in a time of 29:53 in March 2014 and I ran it in the Cherry Blossom Road Race and got second place in my age group.” Replied Tommy.

I went on to ask Tommy about the logging of his miles, Tommy replied ‘In November of 1978 I recorded my most miles in a month with 307, along with that year’s total  being 2,535 miles which was my most in a year’s period.’

Tommy told me his last road race was 1996 and he kept a journal of his running activities since 1977, wow that is true dedication.

Thank you Tommy for sharing your story and it was truly an honor to get to meet you and your wife at the Mayors Conference, may you both continue to thrive and inspire others.  I hope to see you at the annual GMA Convention in Savannah in June!

Whether you are 40 or 80 years old it’s never too late to start running or walking, for many it’s a way to explore the outdoors, meet new friends or spend quality time with family members – why do you run?  Share with us your story..


Its a Jamboree – What do Music and Cycling have in common!

cyclingDid you know there are over 80,000 events in the US?  That is a lot of events to choose from much less be aware of.  I grew up racing bikes, then started running which led to Triathlons.  It was a great workout that allowed me to relieve my stresses from the work week and think of inspirational ideas.  One of those inspirations was starting a running series.

Have you ever wonder how and why some of these events get setup?  What inspires someone to create an event for running, cycling or triathlon.

As I started putting on events I reached out to many event organizers just to understand how they do what they do and why.  It was real cool discovering the other side of the event, from a non-participant perspective, and it was really cool discovering how events got their start.  I had a recent chance to meet a real cool guy via a relationship that I have with America Walks and I got to learn about his event, which was specific to cycling.

Michael Denehy is the brains behind the popular Peddaler’s Jamboree which takes place in Missouri and Iowa. The Pedaler’s Jamboree is a music festival created for bicycle riders and non-riders alike!

I asked Mike to share a little about himself, how he got into Endurance Sports.  ‘I grew up running cross country in high school and soon after found a great love of bicycle touring on RAGBRAI up in Iowa.   Both running and cycling became great social activities that also helped me challenge myself in both speed and endurance.’ replied Mikemike

So I asked Mike if he had an inspiration behind the activity he choose and Mike replied ‘Both running and cycling have always been an adventure for me.  To get outside and run/bike on the trails, back roads and to feel the open air has always been an exhilarating experience.’

Mike went on to tell me that running and cycling have shared the top of his list of favorite activities for years.  Mike stated, “Currently, I can think of no better activity than to spend the day exploring backcountry gravel roads on a bicycle and explore new areas that I have never been before.  I love the opportunity to travel long distances using my own power and skill and an inspiration to take roads that are off the beaten path of life.”

So I asked him how he come up with the idea for Pedaler’s Jamboree, Mike replied “ The inspiration from the Pedaler’s Jamboree came from small bicycle tours with friends on the Katy Trail.   I thought that it would be fun to make the rides that we did for fun “official” events and invite musicians to perform along the route.   The ride went from a few bands and a few hundred people to a couple dozen bands and a few thousand people through the years.   A lot has been learned as the event has grown.  Now at year seven, the event is expanding to a 2nd location in Des Moines Iowa on the Raccoon River Valley Trail.   It is exciting to take all of the years of experience to a brand new trail!”

So I asked Mike what makes the event so unique, Mike replied “ The event is as much a music festival as it is a bicycle tour.  There are many other rides out there that have music along the route, but the Pedaler’s Jamboree definitely focuses on making it a feature of the event.   It is quite a party!  I spend all year scouting bands and making the festival experience something special.   I do believe that the event is the largest bicycle/music festival in the world with close to 3,000 participants on the ride.   This will be year seven and people are starting to get really excited!”

So as it goes I recently put Mike in touch with a key contact in Dekalb County Georgia in hopes of bringing something similar to the South, only time will tell.

Be sure to check out Pedaler’s Jamboree and join Mike for some fun!