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In early December, the Chubu Walkathon Committee eagerly gathered at Coat of Arms Pub in Nagoya for our first face-to-face meeting to plan this year’s event. After the great success we’ve had in recent years, we set a lofty goal of increasing the funds raised by nearly double compared with 2018. Our com­mitted band of veteran tantos (leaders) decided on the main elements that we would include in the 29th Annual Walkathon, and all seemed set.

Many members of the committee have been volunteering in their particular roles for years, so I felt comfortable that, as chairperson, my part would be the easiest. All I’d have to do is keep the ship righted by chairing meetings, rallying the troops, and ticking off boxes along the timeline of duties—the same ones that get done year after year. Outside of a few tweaks to the previous year’s programming, we had a pretty well-worn path to follow.

But as winter turned to early spring, the ominous signs of what was to come started to show.

Nagoya International School (NIS), our partner organization in hosting the event, decided to move to online learning at the end of February due to the coronavirus. Despite this—and not having a crystal ball—we continued planning the event, with hopeful anticipation that it would go on like any other year. When the inevitable finally happened, we were faced with the reality that we wouldn’t be able to gather in the park. The committee faced a tough decision: cancel, postpone, or come up with a new plan. Inspired by what we were already seeing online, we decided to quickly pivot and commit to seeing it through—virtually.

This decision was especially important given the long history and tradition of the event. After all, how could we have a blowout 30th anniversary Walkathon celebration next year if there was no 29th? More importantly, the very reason for hosting the Walkathon—to support the many small-but-mighty organizations working hard to make the Chubu region a great place to live—was still our mandate. This year, more than ever, they would need the Walkathon to go on!

Canine members of the Japan Service Dog Association emceed the opening.

After that, the committee decided to meet weekly via Zoom as we tried to imagine an online event that reflected the original spirit of the Walkathon.

Sponsorship, as always, was key to the fundraising element. Under the circumstances, loyal sponsors stepped up to do what they could, and we were grateful. Going after new sponsorships, however, was a challenge. But with the confidence that we had a good support base to help us reach our goal, we started focusing on the other big part of the Walkathon: gathering as a community. How exactly would that work?

In the end, we kept the two key parts of the event—enter­tainment and walking—at the center of our new plan. Thanks to the talent and quick study of several committee members, the event became a livestream version using Facebook and Zoom. We had a lineup of veteran Walkathon entertainers along with some debut performances. Most were pre-recorded and streamed during the event. The performances were inter­spersed with live “visits” by some of the charities supported by the Walkathon. Distinctive people from the community also contributed by explaining the meaning and history of this much-loved annual event.

And, of course, what is a Walkathon without a walk? We encouraged people to get out and walk on the day, in a responsible manner that respected social-distancing efforts.

After their day of activity, walkers needed to post their steps using the designated hashtag. We awarded first, second, and third places to those who took the most steps. We also added a fun element for the younger crowd. NIS students chore­ographed a dance for willing participants to emulate, and we asked people to “show us your walk on TikTok,” the popular short-form video app. Prizes for this challenge were awarded for the most unique and funniest dance videos.

NIS students choreographed a dance for TikTok.

In addition to sponsorships, we raised funds by selling the official Walkathon T-shirt (traditionally a gift when purchasing a ticket to the event) and soliciting donations. Both were done through our website.

With almost no overhead costs, we were pleased to get close to the amount raised last year. While it fell short of our original ambitious goal for the regular in-person gathering and festivities at the Global Center of Moricoro Park in Nagoya, under the circumstances we were thrilled with what we accomplished!

One of the most rewarding takeaways from the day was the support we received from the community, both near and far. It was heartwarming to see messages come in from overseas and across Japan!

Erin Sakakibara emceed the livestream.

Every step of the way, this Walkathon was a challenge. It was difficult to make the right decision at the right time and to conduct planning through seemingly endless Zoom meetings, where often misunderstandings caused by the remote communication format contributed to frustration and wasted time. And it was difficult—to say the least—to navigate the technical challenges of pulling off something like this when absolutely no one on the committee had such prior experience. But all the hurdles made the rewards that much sweeter, and we look forward to the day when we can distribute the funds to the various charities which we support!

As chairperson, I can say that I stand in awe of a committee that wouldn’t let adversity get in the way.

It is our sincere wish that we will be enjoying a walk, a beer, a splash in the dunk tank, and all the community spirit that Walkathon brings each May next year for the 30th Annual event in Nagoya. But, if it isn’t possible, we now know that we have the capability and, more importantly, the determination to see that the Walkathon never misses a step!

Erik Olsen-Kikuchi tracks his steps.

Erin Sakakibara is the Nagoya regional coordinator at HOPE International Development Agency
As chairperson, I can say that I stand in awe of a committee that wouldn’t let adversity get in the way.