Laura Chrysler Moves Cincinnati, One Step at a Time
By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer
Photos and Video by Madison Schmidt
If someone tells Laura Chrysler to take a hike, she sees it as a compliment. The former corporate sponsorship specialist for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber wants us all to become a more peripatetic society in her latest job as executive director of go Vibrant.
She’s starting with Cincinnati’s neighborhoods through this summer’s go Vibrant Million Step Challenge, the second year of the friendly competition to see which area of town can log the most steps. And although she didn’t realize it at the time, this mission came about through her extended stay in Europe.
“I had the opportunity to move to Geneva, Switzerland for a few years,” she said (through her husband’s job transfer with P&G). “What I noticed about Europe overall is how much walking they do. It’s just integrated in their lives. They walk to the store and they walk through their neighborhoods, it’s their way of life. And what it does is gets you in touch with your surroundings and it makes you stop on the corner and talk with someone you might not have met before.
“When I moved back to Cincinnati in 2014, I remember walking through downtown and seeing how much development had happened and how many people were outside taking a walk. So when I was approached by go Vibrant, it just made sense.”
go Vibrant is responsible for those wayfinding signs that you might have seen downtown and in Cincinnati neighborhoods that map out walking routes from one mile up to five.
In 2016, go Vibrant started incentivizing neighborhoods to use those routes through the “Million Step Challenge.” Last year, five neighborhoods were involved in the Challenge: This year the event kicked off with a two mile walk downtown on Taste of Cincinnati Saturday, with 15 neighborhoods now included.
“We wanted every neighborhood that has embraced the walking routes to have the chance to win this Challenge,” she said. “What we found last year was when Avondale learned that Madisonville was winning, they got all fired up and said, ‘how can we win?’ We’re already finding out that’s happening now among the 15 neighborhoods as they figure out how they can knock Avondale out of the top spot.
“But Avondale is a great model for the Challenge. (Avondale won last year with more than 30 million steps, earning the top prize of $1,500 from go Vibrant, and $2,500 from the Gen-H “Step Up Cincinnati” challenge.) They’ve done a great job at mobilizing both the neighborhoods, and the companies there, like Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the Cincinnati Zoo. They get it, they bring the mission into the neighborhood.”
That mission is to make an active and energetic lifestyle irresistible for each neighborhood, and Chrysler is finding out it’s not a tough sell. “They (the neighborhoods) are coming to us,” she said. “They’re saying we want to hear about this. We find the gems of their community, like the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Walnut Hills that people don’t even realize that is there. It’s walking within your neighborhood and finding these gems to be proud of, that’s what gets the City Council and neighborhood associations fired up.”
“And then, having those Wednesday at 6 p.m. walking groups start from, for example, Café de Sales and take a three-mile loop. You get to meet folks in your community, but there’s also a safety aspect. That’s not originally what we started with, but neighborhoods are telling us it’s a huge benefit. If people know there’s going to be a dedicated group of people walking every week on these routes, then it curbs crime.”
The 15 neighborhoods (yes, Laura can rattle them all off from memory) are, in alphabetical order: Avondale, Clifton, Covington, Delhi, Downtown, Mt. Adams, East Walnut Hills, Evanston, Golf Manor, Madisonville, Mt. Washington, Newport, Northside, Pleasant Ridge and Walnut Hills, with Pleasant Ridge and Delhi the early leaders. (you don’t have to be in one of these neighborhoods to participate in the Million Step Challenge, but only the designated neighborhoods can win prizes).
The Challenge wraps up with the Zombie Walk at the end of October.
And even though it may have seemed like a big step (pun intended) to triple the number of neighborhoods involved this year, Chrysler says it’s just the beginning.
“We’d love to get all 52 neighborhoods involved. Our ideal would be to have a citywide challenge, then take on another city like Cleveland or Pittsburgh, and have some years of experience under our belts.”
Last year, some 2,000 walkers took the challenge: This year, the goal is 6,000 participants and 250 million steps.
Whether it’s walking neighborhoods or playing at the go Vibrant scape along the river, Chrysler says it’s all about staying active.
“It’s so great when I’m talking about go Vibrant and somebody says, ‘Oh those purple route signs, I didn’t know that was you.’ It shows that our mission is getting out into the communities and people are using it. They are aware of how important it is to get healthy and get your steps in.”
For more about the Million Step Challenge and to register, visit www.govibrant.org.