Seward Park Sunday Strolls Forge Social Connections

by Vriti Wadhwa

As a faint layer of gloomy Seattle drizzle set the mood one recent Sunday morning, a group of 20 students followed instructor Tiana Duncan around Seward Park for their morning workout.

With the group in rain jackets and running shoes, they’ve been strolling this park since February. For free.

Having grown up as a competitive swimmer, Duncan has always had an active lifestyle. Working for the YMCA in West Seattle, she decided to give back to those in the community who could not afford gym memberships or exercise equipment.

Initially begun as a group of four people, Duncan plans to have this weekly stroll for the next six months.

Depending on the parks, Duncan tries to have her students walk for 1 to 3 miles. The stroll usually starts with a warm up, introductions by participants, and the sharing of stories with one another.  

Physical exercises are also added along the path, such as strength training moves, cardio moves, and core challenges. During cool down, the group says a closing remark and inspirational words, things they’re grateful for, or a positive spin on something.

“When you change your mind, that’s when everything starts to change around you,” Duncan said.

In the past, Duncan participated in water fitness and aerobics. At 17, she even enrolled in massage therapy school. The Sunday stroll started because her good friend, Charlotte Smith, wanted to resume her fitness journey and become active again.

Smith has attended the Sunday stroll five times at Seward Park since February.

“I truly look forward to get up on Sundays for this walk,” Smith said. “It’s so refreshing to step out of the city Seattle is becoming.”

Duncan usually creates event pages online, has a Facebook page, and gathers participants mostly through word of mouth. She hopes to continue reaching out to communities in South Seattle to make the turnout even bigger.

“The goal is to bring the community out, I want people to come out of their homes and get to know their neighbors,” Duncan said. “I mean, how many times in society are we all on social media versus actually interacting face to face.”

Michael Duncan is one of her devoted participants who has attended every week’s session, because he says he enjoys the people and environment.

“Nobody is judgemental about different sizes, weight, and height,” Duncan said. “We just celebrate when someone shows up.”

As more people are participating and getting to know about the strolls, Duncan has started a nonprofit called the Duncan Connection, which focuses on water safety, fitness classes, and massage therapy.

The Sunday social stroll will also continue during the summer with stair climbing sessions. It will be a notch up from walking, and aims to help make the leg and ab muscles stronger. In the near future, Duncan’s plan is to set up a massage therapy system in partnership with different clinics and medical students around Seattle to provide some type of wellness program for the Rainier Beach community in the fall.

Duncan also occasionally travels outside of Seattle, to other cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta for personalized boot camps and strolls free of cost for attendees. Funded through grants from organizations, Duncan enjoys giving advice and inspiration, she said.

“I see what this has done for me, and I know what it can do for other people,” Duncan said. “I want to be able to give that to others.”

To learn more about Duncan’s athletic journey, or if you are curious to join her Sunday strolls, listen to this:

Vriti Wadhwa is a junior at University of Washington, double majoring in international studies and journalism. Originally from Indonesia, Vriti is an aspiring journalist hoping to work in New York City one day.           

Featured image by Vriti Wadhwa