Walking Connection History
Jo Ann & Gene Taylor
Since 1989 The Walking Connection has been at the forefront of motivating and teaching individuals, companies and communities how to utilize walking and hiking to maximize their health and enrich their lives.
The company was founded by Gene and Jo Ann Taylor. While working as a program director for Nike, Jo Ann was charged with conducting research to learn how feet change as individuals age and what activities interest them so Nike could begin designing athletic shoes to meet this growing demand.
The Walking Connection began promoting and managing local walks, and the program took on energy of its own as more and more walkers began to join. Local media attention grew and local companies and corporate sponsors wanted to support active and healthy lifestyles. Thousands have participated in our programs through companies including Honeywell, IBM, Safeway to name several, community associations such as the Desert Botanical Garden and Phoenix’s Library and Zoo; and through government agencies such as the State of Arizona, and cites of Mesa, Phoenix and Peoria. Worldwide, WalkingConnection.com is one of the leading walking, hiking and adventure travel web sites on the internet.
Today The Walking Connection offers luxury vacations around the world that include a walking component, allowing travelers to visit remote villages and experience the world in a unique and personal way. The Walking Connection sets itself apart in the world of travel by providing outstanding personal service. A Walking Connection specialist accompanies guests on every adventure, making this standard of personal service the highest in the industry.
Conquer The Canyon is a division of The Walking Connection and is an extension of the creativity, knowledge and experience acquired during the past 17 years. The Dedication and passion for its mission to provide programs, products and services that enhance healthy lifestyles, and to have a positive impact on the lives of others, led to the development of Conquer The Canyon and ConquerTheVolcano. This program provides a unique opportunity for nonprofit organizations to raise funds in support of their mission while offering fundraisers an enriching experience. Conquer The Canyon has successfully taken thousands of participants into and out of the Grand Canyon safely, and has raised millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations.
The Walking Connection and Conquer The Canyon continue to grow as we extend a personal invitation to Come Walk With Us!
A Step Back In Time – A Brief History of The Walking Connection
by Jo Ann Taylor
As they say, “Time flies when you’re having fun!” It is hard to believe that the Walking Connection was founded in 1989. Our programming has evolved over the years, but our vision has remained clear; to provide programs, products and services that enhance positive and healthy lifestyles of those who participate though walking, hiking and active travel. Who would have thought that in 1989 the dream of two people would positively affect thousands of people in Arizona (our home base), throughout the USA and in numerous countries around the world. As the Walking Connection continues to grow, we feel that it is important that we remember our roots and share them with new members as well as reminisce with some of the very early members about past experiences. So here is the “Readers Digest*” version of The Walking Connection’s history.
I was a program director for Nike, based here in Phoenix. Through a company owned retail store, I was charged with conducting research to learn about how peoples feet changed as they aged and what activities they were interested in participating in so that Nike could begin to build athletic shoes to meet this still growing demand. The things I first learned through this program were very interesting. Little did I know, it would change my life!
One of the first things we learned was that people like to walk. For fitness, health, relaxation, enjoyment – the list goes on. So along with Nike, I started the Dawn Walk Club! It was a small group of walking enthusiasts and one of our first steps was to organize, promote and manage 2 – 8 mile group walks in a small local area. As it turned out, both the walkers and media loved the program. More and more walkers began to attend walks and special events and the organization began to take on energy of its own. The attention from the local media grew as well, which in turn began to draw the attention of local companies and corporate sponsors to support active and healthy lifestyles for people in the community. At about the same time Nike decided they had acquired the information they needed and decided to terminate the program.
Here comes the life altering part I mentioned earlier. My husband Gene and I spent many sleepless nights doing research and tossing and turning. He took some vacation days from his job and we walked and talked about what to do. Move to Portland (Nike Headquarters) or take this program I had started and try and make a business of it for ourselves. Our choice is now obvious!
Back to walking…
As the attention for the program grew we expanded to other areas of metropolitan Phoenix. For the most part the program was dominated by women, many of which wanted to get their husbands or boyfriends off the couch and out walking with them. From that notion we started our hiking program. We figured we could help grow the program if we could get those men to put on their hiking boots and “go off-road” and hike a trail. It worked!
We were learning more and more with each walk we attended. One of the most important was the social bonding of the members. We constructed the walks so that slower walkers could begin and end at the same time as faster walkers and provided a brief social gathering after each walk. The results speak for themselves. Many members, both short and long term, have made lifelong friends that they would have never met if it was not for this program. They are like-minded people who literally come from all walks of life. (Pun unavoidable).
"Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want." ~Dan Stanford
So not only did we expand the program to include numerous walks throughout the metro Phoenix area and hikes around the state, we added new and different types of events, more active walks and some special walking events. Our goal was and still is to provide venues where people can come together and everyone has an opportunity to meet other walkers. Since we did not just walk at dawn, it became time for us to look for a new name, one that would target both the walking and social aspects of the program, and one that potential new members could identify with. We became “Walking Partners.” Who was it that said, ” Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want?” Well in more ways than one, we got a lot of experience with that name. We gave it more than a year, but as our promotion grew, so did the number of calls we were receiving from people thinking we were a dating club. That was hardly what we wanted and so once again, we went back to the drawing board to find a name that would encompass the broader aspects of the program. Knowing our goal, we eventually came up with the name, as you now know it today!
The program continued to grow, but we felt there was an aspect of it that was still missing. Something that could make it better, but we didn’t have a clue what that would be. Then in 1991 a local Arizona tour company approached us about offering an ecology trip to Puerto Penasco, Mexico to our group. It is about a four-hour drive from Phoenix and the closest ocean shoreline to us. After much consideration we decided that if we changed it to a walking and ecology trip we would give it a try. Though not overly optimistic, we agreed to put an ad in our newsletter. It was our first “Walking Weekend” and it turned out to be an overwhelming success. It sold out in two weeks. A Walking Connection employee and I went along to insure personal service for our guests and evaluate the possibilities for the future. It was at this time that The Walking Connection Travel Experience was officially born. We had stumbled on to our missing link.
For the next few years we concentrated on building membership and walks on a local basis, and expanding the various services to meet the needs we perceived they would want. We also used this time to really research and test the various types of trips we would offer. We wanted to stick with our base philosophy of healthy and active trips, but finding existing companies to supply higher end trips that were also a great value was difficult at best. We tried a few big ship cruises, but quickly realized that about the only exercise you got is walking to and from the endless food lines and buffets! At that time we decided if we were really going to get the type of product out to our guests that we wanted, we would have to put them together ourselves.
In the meantime, we were struggling to come up with an affordable and effective way to let members, traveling guests and general public know about our organization and our trips. It was about at that time that the Internet was introduced to the world! I remember the day I first heard about it. “Its too good to be true” I thought. “And besides, how many people own a computer,” I asked myself. Gene of course thought we should go out and get a web site immediately. I held him off until the beginning of 1996. That was when WalkingConnection.com was born!
Through many hit and miss trials in the beginning, vendors who promised the sky and rarely delivered what they had promised, and the lack of knowledge about computers, we struggled to put up a web site that people would enjoy and come back to whenever they wanted information on walking, hiking, healthy living and active travel adventures. Needless to say, like you, the Internet has changed our lives, careers and the overall complexion of our business. As for my question of how many people own a computer, the answer is 80%+ of all Walking Connection members are on-line, including my 78-year-old mother. Nearly 50% of new travelers with us find us via WalkingConnection.com. We have had people find us in places as far away as Australia and travel with us to Europe. Our traveling group becomes more diversified every day. In general, we are the first or second most popular “Walking Related” web site in the world. More than 7000 other web sites from around the world link to our site, and we have been featured in the Boston Globe, Internet Access Magazine, The London Times, Arizona Republic and many more. And we have thousands of people from more than 40 countries that visit our site on a daily basis.
Over the last decade or so, we have been very fortunate to meet a wide diversity of people, both here and abroad. We have learned that through the Walking Connection organization, people can have a tremendous impact on each others lives. We have seen some incredible support for our Children’s Global Village program. Through your donations, we have been able to help children and small villages in third world countries with learning supplies and much needed over-the-counter medications. We have seen members urge other members on when they are in a competitive walk and we have seen members reach out to other members when they are in need of help of any kind. We have seen more laughter and joy in the faces of members when they get together for a local walk or a walk along the Great Wall of China!
As each passing day becomes history, we hope to continue to build this story. For our current members, you have no doubt noticed the change in the format of this newsletter/magazine. For those of you who are new, we hope you enjoy it. Whether you are interested in the Walking Connection Travel Experience or just motivating information to encourage you to take a simple walk around your block, we hope you will continue to turn to us as your resource for healthy living. Thank you to all of the many people that have believed in us so that we could make our dream a reality. For the “old timers”, current members and those of you yet to join, as always Gene and I would like to extend an invitation to you to “Come Walk With Us!”
*Reader’s Digest is a registered trade name of Readers Digest Association, Inc.
(c) Copyright 2002 – 2018 The Walking Connection® is a registered trademark and the contents of this site is copyrighted by Taylor Marketing and Mgt., LLC., The Walking Connection® and Gene and Jo Ann Taylor. Glendale, Arizona. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without prior consent of Gene or Jo Ann Taylor.