A recent walking initiative has taken over Chicago. It’s the Chicago Girls Who Walk. If you happen to be around on the weekend, odds are you’ll see a pack of sportswear-clad humans out for a walk. But, it’s not just any free-spirited weekend stroll. It’s a coordinated meetup.
Founder Micaila initially started Chicago Girls Who Walk a month ago after seeing a viral TikTok about a New York walking group. Now, the Chicago-based social group has upwards of 200 participants, 6K TikTok followers, and over 6,650 Instagram followers. Her co-founders Stephanie and Hannah came on board the second day, responding to a Facebook post from Micaila in a request for admins to help her manage the group.
The walks happen each weekend, either on Saturday or Sunday, with over 190 women attending last week’s city walk. The group likes to switch locations and sources their active social following for ideas. They also want to incorporate weekday and evening events in the future and expand past just walking. For example, this weekend, there’s a post-walk picnic in the works.
“People are interested,” Micaila says, “So we kind of just took that and we’re like, let’s go with it.”
They started this journey because they wanted to foster a community, and in creating Chicago Girls Who Walk, have done just that– and more. This is not their full-time job, either. All three women work 40-hour-a-week jobs alongside running this expansive group. Micaila initially went to school for Hospitality and Tourism and works for City Experiences, while Stephanie currently works at a drug development company, and Hannah is obtaining her Master’s in Marketing. As for how they split up the responsibilities of the group, it’s all based around their strong suits. Hannah plans for future events, coordinating with possible partners, while Stephanie runs the social accounts, and Micaila, with her hospitality background, is the leader, all-doer.
One of their participants, Jayne, found the walk on TikTok and has nothing but positive things to share about her experience, saying, “It’s one of those things you show up to, either with a friend or by yourself, and wonder, what did I just get myself into? You feel a mix of nervousness and excitement as you approach the meeting spot where over 100 individuals have gathered.”
The participants are all enthusiastic, and have branched out past their weekend walks, organizing brunch groups, social calls, and more on Discord. It’s a chance to get active and meet people you enjoy being around. The women in charge say this is one of their favorite parts of the events– it goes beyond just a few hours spent together. It’s an empowering event and a community of people who are excited to connect. Participants often arrive alone but leave with a new walking buddy, group chat, or plans to grab coffee after. Inner communities are popping up within the larger group, which is something the leaders are proud of.
“My favorite part is seeing individuals coming together, getting some steps in, getting outside, as well as making friendships and hopefully, you know, lifelong long memories,” Stephanie says, “We’ve created a platform for people to get together in person, something that’s not in front of a screen, [where you can] find people with similar interests.”
Stephanie also makes it a point to say this event isn’t only for women, either. Everyone is welcome, no matter how they identify. There’s a 75-year-old woman who is planning to walk next week, too. A mother-daughter duo drove from the suburbs to be at last week’s walk. People bring their partners. Dogs are also encouraged.
As for their expansion, they say they have plans in place as the numbers continue to grow. One option allows for different groups with multiple directions and an end meeting spot. The three women didn’t know each other before coming together to create Chicago Girls Who Walk, which is surprising because in talking to them, it’s easy to see how well they work together.
Micaila says it’s been really rewarding when people tag them in posts and their after-group hangouts. All this growth has been by word of mouth, she says.
They aren’t just walking to walk. Stephanie wants to make this a group with impact and is looking into making it a uniquely Chicago experience by partnering with local restaurants, businesses, and charities like Make A Wish, and more. They’re also working on releasing a merch line, which will probably sell out if their dedicated following has anything to do with it.
“I’m focusing a lot on our future events that are outside of walks,” Hannah says, noting, that people frequently reach out to partner as each weekend walk grows in attendance. They recently rebranded too, changing their name from City Girls Who Walk Chicago to a more succinct Chicago Girls Who Walk. Their social channels are in the process of moving everything over to the new name.
The events have gone viral on TikTok, too, with Jayne’s particular post getting over 286K views, and prompting an upsurge in participation within the last few weeks. It’s all organic, as well. People genuinely just want to connect, and walk, it seems. Anyone interested in participating can find out more information via their Instagram page. Micaila says that’s where they post everything.
The group had their biggest walk this past week, a beautiful stroll along the lakefront. While this is just the start for Chicago Girls Who Walk, there’s no telling where they’ll head next but my guess is, it’s with joyful forward movement.
[Featured photo from: Chicago Girls Who Walk]