For Joyce Shulman, walking has always been an important part of her life and a way of maintaining her mental, physical, and emotional health. During the pandemic, the Sag Harbor resident looked to share that passion for walking with women around the world, while creating an empowered and connected community through her app — 99 Walks.
The app, which allows users to track their walks individually or as part of a team, work to meet their monthly goals, and participate in daily walking classes, was first launched in 2019, but has since grown from 280 users originally to over 15,000 users around the world.
Since its launch, 99 Walks has incorporated a selection of walking classes that members can tune in to, each with a different theme, taught by a team of skilled coaches. The app currently has users in every single state in the country, and a handful of users in Canada.
“It’s been incredible to see the growth,” Mrs. Shulman said. “We’ve grown by word of mouth, and also by engaging on platforms that women use — Facebook is a big one. But we’ve also got people bringing their sisters, mothers, college roommates who live on the other side of the country to the app.”
The pandemic also offered a unique opportunity for the app to grow. While meeting with friends to walk side-by-side was no longer possible, people turned to 99 Walks as a way to reconnect with friends and their community during a period of intense isolation, while staying active at the same time.
“I’m a huge believer in the magic that happens when people walk together. When the pandemic happened, we learned there are other ways to leverage technology to connect with each other. While it’s not as good as walking side by side, that shared experience and opportunity to connect with other people is still there,” she said.
Mrs. Shulman — who launched the app with her husband Eric Cohen — can already see the positive impact that 99 Walks has had on the mental health and physical health of its users.
“We started the company just as the pandemic was heating up, and I’ve definitely seen a growing appreciation for the power of walking during this time,” Mrs. Shulman said. “During the pandemic, people were looking at walking as having not only something to do but something that truly has an impact on their lives and their health. Walking is incredibly beneficial for your mind, it improves your mood, it’s good for your body, and it adds between 7 and 15 years of life,” Mrs. Shulman said.
The positive impact of walking is certainly evident for 99 Walks member Connie Ward of Charlotte, North Carolina, who said that the app has helped her get her health, and her life, back on track.
“When COVID came on the scene, I stopped walking and exercising entirely,” Ms. Ward said. “A few months in, I came across 99 Walks because I was looking for something to help motivate me to start walking again. I joined immediately, downloaded the app, and fully immersed myself in trying to meet the goals that I set for myself every month. 99 Walks helped me come out of that funk that I was feeling.”
Ms. Ward also said that the app allowed her to connect with other walkers around the world, see their stories, and share her own story with others.
“While the pandemic got really lonely, you could connect with people through the app, the 99 Walks Facebook page, and their Instagram page,” Ms. Ward said. “The camaraderie of it all is amazing; you get a peek into the lives of people from all different parts of the country. New people are constantly coming in and the veteran members are cheering them on, giving them motivation and guidance.”
When members achieve their monthly goal, they receive a bracelet in the mail, with a motivational phrase, as a sign of their achievement.
“It may seem small, but the bracelet actually means a lot to me, it means I focused and achieved the monthly goal that I’ve been working toward,” Ms. Ward said. “Getting that bracelet in the mail and putting it on my wrist, wearing it, and reading it is a really great pick-me-up. I’m checking the mailbox every day waiting for my bracelet to come.”
As the app continues its steep growth, Mrs. Shulman said she is “looking to continue to enhance the experience in every possible element.”