When the pandemic forced UNC Campus Recreation to temporarily close its doors last spring, the sports program staff began searching for a way to keep students moving and connected to Carolina from around the world.
“We were trying to find ways to keep people engaged and be able to keep them active from wherever they were. We wanted to reach people where they were,” says Tori Hooker, the senior assistant director of sports programs at Campus Rec.
That objective led to the launch of a now thriving digital community of more than 560 Tar Heels competing, training and staying active together through Strava, a social network that tracks exercise. Campus Rec launched the UNC Strava Club last summer to create a space for students, faculty and staff to share exercise routines, post photos and make new connections with other members.
The club, which is open to the public, also hosts multi-week challenges that encourage members to get moving — no matter their fitness level or access to facilities. Challenges range from running and swimming to a short hike and bodyweight exercises. The goal is to simply keep the community active and make exercise accessible where people are.
“We try to do some activities that appeal to people that probably are out moving already and to people who are just trying to get moving and get started in some way,” Hooker says. “We want to make sure that our activities are challenging yet accessible and achievable. We want people to get moving in ways that are comfortable for them.”
For rising senior Bryn Foster, the UNC Strava Club became an asset for her workouts when training with the club cross country team wasn’t an option because of the pandemic. The club and its challenges have helped her find new running routes and inspired her to try new forms of exercise.
Though she’s back to training with the team, she’s remaining active with the Strava Club.
“It encourages me to try different workouts,” she says. “It sparks the idea in my mind. Seeing biking and swimming workouts posted gave me ideas of what to do. It’s cool to see different routes because you get stuck in a rut and run the same six or seven routes every week. Seeing where other people are going, what else is created to do is really cool and an interesting way to connect with people I’ve never met before.”
Campus Rec launched the UNC Strava Club’s latest multi-week challenge July 5. Community members can join the challenge at any point before it ends Aug. 1. The next challenge will begin Aug. 23.
“It all ties into our mission of reaching students and providing support in ways that are beneficial not only on their physical wellness but their mental wellness and social wellness,” Hooker says. “It’s about trying to provide an outlet for students to be able to stay active. Strava is also a way to engage with people who might have a little anxiety about being in person with a bunch of other people. They can still compete, even if it is just against themselves and trying to improve on a personal level.”