Above: After a short break at Glenlake Park, Decatur’s 50+ Walk group is back on track. Photos by Donna Williams Lewis.
A recent morning at the Decatur Recreation Center brought the “Cheers” refrain to mind — “You want to be where everybody knows your name.”
One by one that day, regulars in the city’s Active Living 50+ Walk group showed up for their weekly Wednesday 9 a.m. journey, eliciting excited greetings from those already there.
Some of them have been walking with the group since it started, about five years ago. P. Young was a first-timer.
“I’m getting started for an exercise program and for the camaraderie,” Young said.
She had come to the right place. Within minutes, Young was absorbed into the fold as the walkers departed Sycamore Street and chatted their way through leafy, side-walked neighborhoods.
The group was led by Cheryl Burnette, assistant director of Decatur Active Living. She was subbing for Sara Holmes, the department’s adult program supervisor, who normally leads the 2.5- to 3-mile walks.
“Walking is great exercise. It’s low impact, and helps us live longer, in a healthy way,” Burnette said. “I think another really important part of it is the socialization. A lot of the ladies that come from my building are very social … but I think people sometimes need a little motivation to get out of their homes.” One motivator, she said, can be knowing that people are looking for you to show up.
The lone man on the walk that day, Clay Scarborough, would agree. He said he believes an activity done with a group helps to make it become a habit.
“I think if there’s a group and they sort of expect you, it makes it become part of a routine. And I think as you get older you just sort of want to get into those healthy routines,” he said, as he walked along Forkner Drive.
The recent retiree and former owner of Decatur’s Fleet Feet store has been doing the 50+ Walk for several years, filling in as a walk leader when needed.
“The group helps you socialize, because usually I’m at home by myself during the day. My wife is still working,” Scarborough said. “I live in a condominium so it’s nice also just to get out and walk around and see people’s plants and yards.”
One of the more popular routes he’s led passes by a home near Agnes Scott College that has a large chicken coop.
“That’s sort of like the highlight of that walk, seeing the chickens,” he said.
Walking the walk
This group moves along at a steady pace, but it’s ok to stop and admire the views, as did longtime members Fran Millians and Ellen Hopkins, who were captivated by some gorgeous blooms along the way.
Hopkins, who teaches an online graduate course, joined the group about a year ago when she moved to Decatur from New York. She appreciates the exercise and meeting people but also likes the routine the walk and other Active Living programs bring to her life.
“I’m a scheduled person … and just the thought of being retired scared me to death,” she said. “I think there are too many older citizens who are confined to their space, whatever that may be, and don’t reach out and don’t connect meaningfully with other people, but it’s really important to get yourself out there, especially if you’re in a new community.”
Millians, a part-time school clerical worker, did just that, joining the walk group when she moved to Decatur five years ago. She said she also does at least a 30-minute workout every day in her apartment and wants to do all she can to stay active.
“As long as I live, the hope is to live well and feel well and not be miserable and wretched. … I just think activity is the key to living well, whatever stage of life you’re in,” Millians said.
Tillie Young joined the walking group about four years ago, after moving to Decatur from Maryland. She volunteers at Global Village Project, a school for refugee girls at Decatur Presbyterian Church.
“It keeps me active,” said Young, of the walking group. “It’s a nice diverse group — men, women. Mostly women, as many things are here. And Decatur is racially diverse as well. So it’s just nice to live in a naturally diverse community.”
She wants potential new walkers to know that the recreation center is just across the street from the Decatur MARTA station and that seniors 65 and older can get a reduced fare. (See itsmarta.com/reduced-fare-program.aspx.)
‘Just a blessing’
Decatur’s group started as a Walk with a Doc group and later joined the network of about a dozen 50+ Walk groups formed several years ago by PEDS, an Atlanta advocacy group for pedestrian safety. Those groups were designed to become self-sustaining and are no longer led by PEDS, according to Sally Flocks, the nonprofit’s president and CEO.
“Walking has terrific health and community benefits, and we’re thrilled by the continued success of groups we worked with,” Flocks said. “Walking groups are a terrific way to make friends, have fun, be active and stay healthy.”
Decatur’s 50+ Walk group is free and you don’t have to live in Decatur or be 50+ to walk with the group. The group uses the rec center’s indoor track in inclement weather and each walk typically draws about eight to 15 people, Burnette said.
Retired elementary school teacher Sandy Bass is among the regulars. She moved two years ago from a farm in Alabama to a Decatur condo with her husband who was being treated for advanced stage 4 cancer.
She said the walk group has been a great way to get to know Decatur, and that the weekly trek has been “just a blessing” since her husband passed away in December.
“We meet people from all over the area and the walking is wonderful,” Bass said.
The Rev. Marti Keller, one of the group’s original walkers, can’t participate as often as she used to because she’s serving as a minister in Alabama this year. But she shows up for the 50+ Walk when she can.
She doesn’t need to do it for the exercise because she and her husband, Richard Cohen, who is the head of Decatur’s pedestrian safety committee, get plenty of walking in with their three dogs.
“I do it because it’s a way for me to see people on a consistent basis and feel part of this community,” Keller said, as the group headed back to the recreation center. “My husband and I still live in a single-family home in a neighborhood that has more young families now and so it’s harder for us to feel as connected as we once did.”
The walk group is community-building, she said.
“We don’t know the ways in which aging boomers are going to continue to feel connected and vital, and I don’t think it’s going to be the conventional free-standing senior centers,” Keller said. “So these kinds of activities, where we’re walking and talking and connecting with each other and maybe we’ll go out to coffee … this is one way of finding an activity that’s going to suit us better.”
Find your tribe!
Check with your city or county recreation department for walking groups in your area. Find 50+ Walk groups on Facebook. And check out this snapshot of some of the groups walking around town.
Walk Fit Decatur
In addition to its 50+ Walks, Decatur offers this free group for all ages and pets that walks about three miles on the second Saturday of each month with a special guest and/or theme each time. Meets at 10 a.m. at the Decatur Recreation Center. Info: decaturga.com/walking. Walking on your own? Download a newly designed walking map with six routes around Decatur here: decaturga.com/home/showdocument?id=10777. Copies available at the Decatur and Ebster recreation centers and the city’s Visitor’s Center.
Heritage Sandy Springs Outdoors Club
Free hour-long, guide-led hikes in the 16 city parks. Social events, day trips to mountain trails and special holiday hikes. Open to people of all ages and pets. Meets on Fridays at 8:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 8 a.m. Info: heritagesandysprings.org/3485-2/community-events/outdoors-club/.
Norcross Moves Me
No matter your speed, no matter the weather (except for ice and driving rain), a group of mostly 50+ walkers (all are invited) walks about Historic Norcross. Meets at Thrasher Park Pavilion at 8:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays for about an hour-long walk covering approximately three miles. Features sites you can’t see when driving, from murals to forests in the middle of the city to school gardens. Info: facebook.com/50walksnorcross.
The national public health nonprofit’s mission is to inspire 1 million African-American women and girls to develop a daily habit of walking. Group members, including about 5,000 in metro Atlanta, organize walking teams and support advocacy efforts in a civil rights-inspired health movement. Info: girltrek.org.