Since 2011, MDA Muscle Walks have been gathering individuals living with muscular dystrophy, ALS, and related neuromuscular diseases with their families, friends, and communities across America. Together, they’ve raised awareness of everyday life with muscle disease — and they’ve raised $49 million to fund expert care and innovative research directed toward delivering cures.
This year, Muscle Walk is aiming even higher.
In 2020, all but four of the country’s 140-plus walks will be held in the fall, rather than throughout the year, as they’ve historically been scheduled. Ten “premier” walks will feature new interactive activities and technology that MDA plans to incorporate into more walks in the future. By 2021, all walks will take place in a single season.
“Walks were, in the past, spread out,” says Deborah Barge, MDA senior vice president and chief field officer. “Around the country, you didn’t necessarily know when a walk was in your community. Our goal in moving to a single-season experience is both that we can increase our attendance by utilizing the early part of the calendar for recruitment and team development, and that it really comes back to our roots a little in that our MDA Telethon moment, our moment of community engagement in the past, was in the fall. Walk is our largest community engagement program, and we’d like to take back fall in that same notion, that we bring the community together for our mission.”
The Muscle Walk venue — where not only MDA families but also community members at large gather — provides a unique opportunity for immersive education and involvement.
“We want the world to join our cause,” Deborah says. “Walk is one of those moments where the world’s invited to care about our cause and participate alongside of us.”
MDA began piloting interactive “experiences” at a few select walks in 2019. This year, those experiences will pop up at 10 walks. Within them will be information booths highlighting what MDA does and who it serves, plus accessible step-and-repeat photo stations where participants can choose an MDA mission moment — a sign with a message like “I will advocate for patients’ rights” — to emphasize their support. Participants will receive technology-enabled wristbands with electronic chips inside, and when they tap the bracelets at points within the events, they’ll be entered to win a prize. They’ll also automatically receive more information about what they’ve tapped on.
“It actually gives us a forum to have more one-to-one digital connection to the individual,” Deborah says. “Every time they tap, they receive an email with additional information. If they tap a camp-related location, they receive an email that tells them a little more about our camp programs. We can continue to build that education and awareness with our attendees.”
Premier walks also boast a reimagined route experience. All walks will still have a 1- to 3.1-mile, wheelchair- and equipment-friendly course for participants of all ages and abilities; premier walks will have a check-in station along the route with a DJ and dance party, as well as a refresh station with water or snacks or both, to keep up the walk’s momentum.
“Everyone loves music, and it can be energizing, and it can be positive, and everyone can participate,” Deborah says. “What does it mean to literally bring our movement to life? Because that’s what Muscle Walk is — a chance for us to bring our movement to life.”
While the 10 premier walks — located in Atlanta; Chicago; Dallas; Detroit; Houston; Minneapolis; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Providence, R.I.; and St. Louis — will host every new feature, additional walks around the country can opt to include some of the interactive opportunities for their participants.
Anyone interested in joining a Muscle Walk can visit walk.mda.org to find a local walk and register. Individuals and teams will receive incentives as they fundraise in the months leading up to their walk — with a special limited-edition early-bird prize for those who register and raise $70, in honor of MDA’s 70th anniversary this year, before May 1 — and will still have access to fundraising coaching along the way.
“There is a big uptick in live-moment experiences across the industry,” Deborah says, “and many believe it is because people crave human-to-human interaction in meaningful moments. Muscle Walk is one of those places where, side by side, all abilities get to experience a day together. All who attend an event have the opportunity to be included and learn about neuromuscular disease, even as a first-time attendee.
“The awareness-building of Muscle Walk is crucial to the wider community,” Deborah says, “for them to see how important our mission is, for them to understand the journey to cures that we are on, and to join our fight.”
To learn more about Muscle Walk and find an event in your area, visit walk.mda.org.