Going the distance: Connection during the coronavirus

L: Photo of Sorensen with his kids from a race last year. R: Photo of Sorensen

At a time when distance from each other is encouraged to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Zak Sorensen is cultivating an online community to keep people connected.

About two weeks ago, Sorensen, a student in the MSU Strategic Communication Online Master’s Program, created the #covid19runchallenge group on Facebook.

The group was a result of Sorensen’s personal experience. When his gym was closed due to the coronavirus, he said he was looking for other ways to hold himself accountable to staying active. He likes running, so the idea started to form: “...I can run for 19 days straight starting on [March] 19 at least 1.9 miles a day.”

The idea took off. 

Now, with more than 1,000 members from around the world, the group has become a place for people to share their walks, runs, hikes and other kinds of outdoor activity – wherever they may be. The group encourages everyone to do an outdoor activity, following the safety guidelines of the state or country they live in, for at least 1.9 miles for 19 straight days starting whichever day they join the group.

“Community is so critical in times like these,” Sorensen said. “Technology provides us all a way to stay connected and share our social [distance] adventures, support each other and press on.”

Each day, group participants post photos of their activity and encouragement for others.

“The amount of people who are embracing this for the first time is incredible,” he said. “We have people doing their first run in years or sharing their joy of taking daily family walks for the first time in years.”

And beyond fostering connection and camaraderie, the group provides people the ability to give back.

Participants can purchase T-shirts and finisher medals with all proceeds going toward the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

“This challenge group is a metaphor of the trails we are facing and the importance to seek joy, health and share in community together,” Sorensen said.

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