A typical Saturday for Sue Parks includes joining a group of friends for a five-mile walk, an activity that keeps her healthy and in control of her stress levels.
These days it also keeps her busy as chief executive of a company that sells walking as a lifestyle.
In early March, Parks reached the culmination of all the days when she logged 10,000 steps (5 miles); all the days she dreamed of building her own company with the Sue Parks culture; all the days she toiled and traveled to bring WalkStyles, her infant company, to exactly this point. About two years after WalkStyles debuted its first products, Parks launched the part of the company that inspired her from the beginning - the walking community.
WalkStyles invited America's fitness community to use its free, online service (walkstyles.com) to form walking clubs. Participants can register, connect with like-minded walkers where they live or where they travel, and use the site to manage their group activities.
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If all goes as planned, it could become the MySpace for walkers.
The target audience is huge and growing: Nearly 72 million Americans say walking is their favorite form of exercise, and older Americans favor it most.
Parks originally made her mark in the corporate world at Gateway, U.S. West and Kinko's. She did not flee for family reasons or burnout or barriers to achievement; she simply preferred to run her business her way. Parks wanted to start a lifestyle.
"There are walking products out there, but nobody has thought of walking as a lifestyle," she said. "We want to own walking. When people think of walking, they're going to think of us. And to enjoy the walking lifestyle, they'll want our products and services."
She and her husband, Dennis, started with a monitoring device called DashTrak that measures steps, calories and heart rate. Soon after came stylish yet comfortable activewear that can go from the trail to the cocktail lounge. The newest component, the Web site, brings people together to pursue their fitness goals. It reflects Parks' desire to raise America's consciousness about wellness.
The free online service complements the subscription-based service already in place on walkstyles.com. Walkers are encouraged to use a DashTrak to tally their daily steps and monitor their progress or to check it against others in the group. It's a product that people all over the country - mostly women - have encouraged Parks to build, so they can find like-minded walkers wherever they go.
"As I traveled and talked about wellness, women came up to me all the time and wanted to know, `Where can I find walkers in Tampa? Or Philadelphia?'" Parks said. "I came back to our board and said, this is really about community. Nobody is facilitating a way to achieve wellness goals together through a walking group."
The women told her they want to walk, but they also want to talk, advise, compare stories and be each other's walking cheerleaders.
Parks discovered that, and some interesting things about men's and women's fitness drive, in her early research. She had just left Kinko's, where she was executive vice president and the No. 2 person at the Dallas headquarters.
She was tired of commuting from Texas to Orange County, Calif. - still her home - and she was looking for something to marry her technical and managerial expertise with her passion for walking.
She formed a walking club of about 40 friends, mostly women, to be her focus group. She says the Orange County group "was sort of magical, the way it took off." It now has more than 80 members.
"Women want to socialize (when they walk), and they view it as an opportunity to talk about what's going on in their lives - to laugh, cry, share, solve business and family problems together, or just listen. That is an hour of their lives to just be completely relaxed together.
"That's good for you both physically and mentally. I would think nothing of just calling a friend and saying, `Let's go walk for an hour.' Not for work, but to do it for the sake of walking, and then maybe have coffee or a glass of wine.
"Men have to have a purpose to walk. Men will walk a golf course, or walk because their doctor or their wife said `you have to be more active,' or they'll walk a soccer field to be out there with their kids. But they won't just call a friend and go for a walk. Men need to tie it to some other activity or purpose, not make it a social time."
True to her passion, Parks walks the walk. To kick off the free online walking service, she is touring 50 states in 50 weeks and joining other walkers on 50 five-mile walks through U.S. capital cities. Her inspiration for the 50 theme was her 50th birthday, March 1.
Five miles is about 10,000 steps, as measured on a DashTrak. Parks has achieved her daily goal of at least 10,000 steps every day this year, as well as every day in 2006.
She's also a top contributor to the fight against child obesity. Each day that a person logs 10,000 steps at walkstyles.com, the company donates 10 cents to a charity that works to curb child obesity.
If Parks has her way, "10,000 steps" will become a part of the American vernacular, as common as "slam dunk" is to basketball and "10K" is to running.
She's going to push even a bit further, out of the fitness arena and into the boardroom. She thinks America should have more walking meetings.
"In my corporate life, I often said, `Let's go for a walk,'" Parks said. "You get in a rhythm of walking and talking, and I almost always found out we'd open up and share a lot better. When you're sitting across from someone at a desk, you can get uneasy. Walking side by side, people open up more about what's going on - at work, or personal things that are interrupting their work."