FAIRMONT - Becky Thoreson has been involved with the American Heart Association for as long as she can remember.
"My family has volunteered there since before I was born," she said. "I used to work for the American Heart Association, so I knew the importance of walking and a healthy lifestyle."
When Thoreson relocated with her husband to Fairmont and opened a space in the Five Lakes Centre for the Fairmont Raceway, she noticed the regular flow of traffic in the corridors.
"I was impressed with the number of walkers at the mall," she said. "There is a regular group that is here every morning at 6:30, and they walk. I see a lot of the same people here walking, and they interact with the store owners and workers. It's a fun way to see people that are en route to a healthier lifestyle. Walking is one of the easiest ways to combat heart disease. As little as 30 minutes a day can make a big difference."
Thoreson was also impressed with the camaraderie with the walkers and employees at the Five Lakes Centre.
"Nancy Olson (director of the Five Lakes Centre) told me about how there was a man who was a regular walker here, and then he didn't show up for nearly a week," Thoreson recalled. "They called to check on him, and sure enough, he was ill. So there's a whole other community base; that sense of people watching out for each other."
Thoreson decided to use her long-time connection to the American Heart Association to help and encourage the Five Lakes Centre walkers.
"When we joined the Five Lakes Centre with an office, we cared about the patrons and their health too," she said.
On Friday, the official American Heart Association Walking Program will be launched. A visible walking path completed with updated calculations will be posted.
"As far as we know this is the first official American Heart Association path in Fairmont," Thoreson said. "They really love getting into new communities."
Thoreson had plenty of help setting up the new walking program, from the Five Lakes Centre and from the high school students she teaches at Granada-Huntley-East Chain.
"It had been so long since the mileage was updated, that people had forgotten exactly how many laps was equivalent to a mile," Thoreson said. "We measured and found that one lap around was 506 meters, so three times around, plus the distance from Dunham's to Radio Shack is 1 mile."
The path will mark start and stop points to track mileage. Other new features for the walking path include a recently-installed "walker's closet," where walkers can hang up and even lock up their coats. The area will also house health resources for program participants.
Also in coordination with the walking path, participants can register online for free at startwalkingnow.org to track their physical activity and nutritional intake.
"Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of all Americans," Thoreson said. "Walking is one of the most simple, positive changes one can make to improve heart health."
On Friday, a kickoff event will be held at 12:30 p.m., and include a short health program, an inaugural lap led by Mayor Randy Quiring, and free blood pressure screenings will be provided by Sterling Drug. Thoreson's students will show interviews and videos they made with the FIve Lakes Centre walkers, and merchants at Five Lakes Centre will also be offering store coupons to participants.
"So many people come and walk during their lunch hour that I'm hoping we will have a great turnout," Thoreson said.