ST MARYS — Two college students are making friends while making a difference in the lives of Elk County people wanting to get fit and have fun doing it.

Elk County “Walk Across PA” is a public Facebook group, where participants can walk, run, bike or undertake any other fitness activity and submit their miles in through Facebook or email. Those who log a high number of miles can win prizes from local organizations, businesses and people sponsoring the group’s efforts.

The group was begun by two college students, fitness enthusiasts and lifelong friends — Jake Fritz and Taylor Uberti. Fritz is a senior at Slippery Rock University majoring in health and physical education, and Uberti is a senior at Penn State University. Both work at St. Marys Memorial Park during the summer.

The “Walk Across PA” effort began at the beginning of June, when community nurses came to the park and conducted health screenings for participants.

“This is just a way of trying to bring the community together,” Fritz said. “We wanted this to be a way for people to be physically active again, even if it’s just walking.”

Having support of community members and local businesses can motivate and encourage people to be more active, the two said. Participants can do something as simple as walking their dog and log their miles.

“This is a better way for us to get in contact with each other throughout Elk County, too,” Uberti said. “I like the aspect of getting into the community and getting to talk to people. I’m surprised how many people we can be in touch with, and how many people send their miles in.”

Participants use a virtual map, logging their miles and even establishing goals or complete challenges, like being the first to reach a local landmark. For example, on July 3, the group posted that any participant who reaches the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum by July 13 will be entered into a drawing by the Boys and Girls Club of St. Marys.

It also helps people to see their progress documented or marked, showing them how fair they’ve come, or rewarding them for accomplishing a goal.

“As people reach a mile marker, they get excited about it,” Fritz said.

The mile markers are only about 10 miles apart, Fritz said. They are kept fairly close together so participants don’t get discouraged.

Local businesses like New Horizon Healthy Foods participate in the group, too, by offering different workouts or health tips each week, such as healthy diet and food recommendations.

“There are so many health-focused businesses in this area,” Uberti said. “This is another way to help them get their names out there, and help people know where to go for healthy foods.”

There are about 182 people registered in the group, and people log around 4 or 5 miles each day. Some who are more active even reach 8 to 10 miles. Participants can submit miles by the day or weekly.

Fritz and Uberti are not only passionate about health, but have known each other since middle school and work well together.

Members can also reach out through Facebook or email and learn more about how to reach their personal goals, Uberti said. The group was started not only to motivate and encourage a healthy community, but also to connect people and businesses and create friendships.

Most participants are from Elk County areas like St. Marys, Ridgway and Johnsonburg, but they would like to expand the group to other communities, such as DuBois, Uberti and Fritz said.

For more information, message the Elk County Walk Across PA 2018 Facebook page, or call St. Marys Memorial Park at 814-834-9418.

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