A PATH FOR FITNESS: With more taking to outdoors, a call for safety
With COVID-19 causing all the gyms to close up for a majority of 2020, people have had to find different ways to maintain their physical health.
One thing the pandemic didn’t close was the ability to go outdoors.
Tonia Wilson of Wilson Endurance Sports in Cassadaga has been an impactful voice for health and fitness practices in Chautauqua County and she decided to see how active Chautauqua County residents were in 2020.
“I made a random post on Facebook,” Wilson said. “I told folks to give me their 2020 totals for walking, biking, running, and swimming in Chautauqua County. I got 34 responses in one day and in total, people reported 30,558 miles of walking and running, 41,660 miles of biking, and over 600 miles of open water swimming.”
Wilson also reported that Wilson Endurance Sports, despite only being able to hold nine out of their 22 scheduled events this year, had record turnouts for the events that did happen, all of which happened in Chautauqua County. On top of that, at the beginning of 2020, Wilson made a separate Facebook page called Cassadaga Walkers, which brings together a small group of people to walk around the lake, which Wilson also noted that there’s always people walking around the lake. Eight people showed up to the first walk, which Wilson dubbed “the first frolic,” and they gathered again this year with double the turnout.
“It’s amazing how many people are out and moving,” Wilson said. “Chautauqua County is one of the worst health and fitness counties in New York, so I figured we needed to get people aware and needed to get outside and move. Even with gyms closed, you can still get outside and move.”
While Wilson acknowledges that people getting out and moving is exactly what they need, it also brings to light a much larger issue that walkers, runners, and bikers face: Safety. Namely, traffic safety.
It’s a large concern for Wilson that everyone out trying to stay healthy stays safe, and the drivers on the roads watch out for them.
“If we have this many people on the roads walking and cycling, we need to talk about road safety,” Wilson said. “If this becomes a thing where we have more and more people outside exercising, we need to make safety a part of it and push it. Instead of reacting, we need to be proactive.”
Outside of basic safety precautions those out exercising can take, such as wearing bright clothes, and having lights, Wilson expresses a lot of the onus for safety should be put on the driver. Between just moving over and giving space to the walkers and slowing down, there are things the driver can do to help everyone remain safe. But there are also things the local government can do to help as well.
“We need to work on the shoulders of the roads,” Wilson said. “Any country road you see, there is barely any shoulder at all, and if there is any shoulder, they’re full of potholes and deris. They aren’t consistent as far as size, and it’s difficult to be on a bike because of the conditions. There’s thousands of miles of roads being ridden and walked on, they should be in better condition.”
Wilson plans to speak to State Sen. George Borrello and State Assemblyman Andy Goodell to talk about road safety. People’s safety means a lot to Wilson, as it’s a very personal subject for her.
“Because of the profession we’re in, we’re bombarded every day with posts about people getting killed on roads, and we’re really blessed we don’t have more of what’s happening around the world happening here,” Wilson said. “But my husband has been hit by a car, we’ve had people throw things at us or hit us with mirrors, we’ve had to jump into a ditch to avoid cars. And people have swerved into us. I’m not sure if they’re trying to hit you or scare you but they do it all the time. There are no sidewalks in rural areas.”
There are 387 miles of highways in Chautauqua County and 550 miles in county roads, which Wilson looked up. And while people have been out walking them in spades, she only wishes they were safer and in better condition for those who choose to exercise on them.