Photo by Shawyuan Hsu
Last summer, as she worked on fall programming, Director of Recreation Monica Verity asked herself a question. What physical activities could the Department of Physical Education, Recreation, and Athletics provide for community members—wherever in the world they might be? The answer was Walktober, a program inviting students as well as alumnae across the globe to join in. Friends of Wellesley Athletics sponsored the program, and the Alumnae Association stepped up to spread the word.
Walktober challenged participants to walk every day for 42 days, starting on Sept. 21, 2020. The goal for each individual was to collect 30 virtual leaves by the end of the program, and these leaves were acquired each day that a participant logged at least 6,000 steps. “It was exhilarating to see the registration numbers fly in on my email,” says Verity. A total of 2,591 participants had signed up—2,184 alumnae, 215 students, and 192 faculty and staff members. “The program surpassed all of my expectations and goals,” she says.
The combination of physical exercise and community connection was central to the program, especially given the isolation many felt during the pandemic. The program offered an option to form teams: groups of four or five who cheered each other on, vying for the most group points. Two teams (of a total 368) placed first for point count: ’20 Red Hot Rowers (Maria Iannotti, Sooji Kang, Rhiannon Mulligan, Alison Carey, and Olivia Holbrook—all class of 2020) and the ’58’79’83MinnesotaMilers (Luella Gross Goldberg ’58, Jody Strakosch ’79, Barbara Martini Johnson ’58, Ellen Goldberg Luger ’83, and Linda Gross Cohen ’58).
Rhiannon Mulligan thought the program could have been even more competitive—she herself completed 1,075,260 steps over the 42 days while training at Oxford University for the Boat Race (Oxford vs. Cambridge). Teammate Alison Carey liked the ways that the program fostered interaction among different generations of alums, particularly the virtual wall where participants could post photos. “I personally would post my ‘walks,’ which were mainly logged from my hours of canvassing in York County, Maine, for progressive candidates!”
For Luella Gross Goldberg, gathering a team, including her twin sister and one of her daughters, was a no-brainer. (Goldberg’s other daughter and niece are also alumnae.) “Our family is a bunch of Wellesley loyalists. Anything that comes from Wellesley certainly merits our attention,” she says.
“One of the most fun parts was just keeping in touch with everybody,” Goldberg says, adding that walking goals were a good distraction from the pandemic, since they took up a lot of each day. “We had some beautiful fall days, unusually beautiful—and only one day where we had to walk through a few inches of snow.”
At the end of the program, participants had taken 764,024,473 combined steps in 29 countries on five continents. The earliest class that participated was the class of 1948. “The walking aspect was fine,” concludes Olivia Holbrook of the Red Hot Rowers, “but like most things at Wellesley, I signed up because of the community.”