In August 2018, Joyce Shulman and her husband, Eric Cohen, were out on a walk while vacationing in Hawaii, talking about what was next for them. The Sag Harbor couple had proven they had a taste for entrepreneurial pursuits, with three successful ventures, including the popular parenting site, Macaroni Kid, which they founded in 2008 and then sold in August of this year. They were looking for their next adventure, and then realized that the answer was in what they were doing at that very moment.
That’s how 99 Walks was born.
“We’ve always had a walking practice, and one day we said, we think there might be something to finding a way to encourage women to walk together,” Ms. Shulman explained in an interview last week.
Their fourth business venture together, 99 Walks (initially dubbed Project Maui) is the brainchild of Ms. Shulman and Mr. Cohen, and seeks to address what Ms. Shulman calls “a tremendous health and wellness crisis” in today’s modern world, especially for women and mothers.
“We’ve never known as much as we know now about what it takes to be healthy and well, and we have so much knowledge and research and education, yet we are getting bigger and less healthy and less well,” she said. “We’re the first generation that will not be as healthy as our parents before us were. It’s crazy if you stop to think about it. The other thing we’re suffering from is a loneliness epidemic. That was happening even before COVID started, and now it’s exacerbated.”
The Bridgehampton-based 99 Walks attempts to meet both of those problems head on by making avenues to both physical and mental well-being more accessible and inspirational for women, and giving them ways to connect with each other. The focus is on creating and sticking to a walking regimen, within a community of like-minded women, where the physical benefits are not the only advantages to doing so. The company is designed for women “who seek connection, community, and support to get moving,” according to its official website. There is an app that gives users access to monthly challenges, daily classes, motivational podcasts and more.
To create more visibility around the new company and generate excitement and motivation, 99 Walks will host its inaugural Double Down On Dreams Virtual 5K event on December 5 and 6. Because fostering accessibility is part of the company’s core mission, the event is open to everyone, and there are three ways to complete it: accumulating the 3.1-mile distance in separate chunks over the weekend, doing it all at once, or doing it at a faster pace in an attempt to achieve a personal record in terms of finish time. Members will receive a Double Down On Dreams face-covering buff and non-members will receive a free two-week trial for the app. The $25 registration fee includes other extras, like a race medal, access to a one-hour walking class and weekend meal plan, and more.
Ms. Shulman’s enthusiasm for 99 Walks is palpable, and comes from her lifelong passion for walking and her belief in its many benefits. She can frequently be found walking by Long Beach and Barcelona Neck, her favorite spots, and she said that any time a friend calls or texts to ask if she’s available to go for a walk, she will always say “yes” if there’s any way she can.
Given that, it makes sense that she translated that passion into a business, one that she agrees is particularly well-suited to the specific challenges presented by an ongoing global pandemic.
“People are really looking for motivation to stay active, especially during these challenging times,” she said. “So that’s a big piece of what underlies the whole 99 Walks mission. And people love a specific and unique challenge and like to rise to the occasion.”
Committing to completing a 5K walk over the course of one or two days isn’t just about conquering a physical challenge, Ms. Shulman said. The 5K is also designed to be a way to motivate people in other areas of life; which helps explain the origin story of the company’s name.
“There’s a bunch of research around the fact that it takes a couple of months to really develop a new habit,” Ms. Shulman said. “Our belief is that 99 intentional walks can create a meaningful shift in your life.”
The relative ease of walking when compared to most other forms of exercise is part of the appeal as well, Ms. Shulman said, adding that for women who either can’t or don’t want to commit to a more intense workout regimen like running or other forms of high intensity exercise, walking is a great solution.
“It’s a way to clear your head and manage stress,” she said. “It’s accessible to pretty much everyone, so it’s a very simple practice to develop.”
In addition to the main goal of getting women moving, 99 Walks also seeks to encourage women to “envision what their dream life is like,” according to Ms. Shulman, and to that end, the company provides members with access to online tools and materials that will help them achieve those goals.
In about a year’s time, 99 Walks has amassed 11,000 active members, and Ms. Shulman and Mr. Cohen have a lofty goal for the company itself as well: to get 1 million women walking. They are hoping that hosting the virtual 5K is a big step — no pun intended — in that direction.
“We hope that people who commit to the Double Down on Dreams 5K can learn a lesson that they can commit to something, prepare for something, and accomplish something,” Ms. Shulman said. “And the lesson that comes out of that is, if you can do this, you can do the next thing, and then the next thing. They can take that sense of accomplishment from this experience and begin to apply it to bigger things.”
For more information, visit 99walks.fit.