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New West mayor walks to Ottawa in 2020 – without leaving home

COVID-19 pandemic puts a slight dent in plans to walk 5.5 million steps
Mayor Jonathan Cote took a pre-pandemic stroll as part of his quest to walk "around the world" in the 2020s. File/The Record

Mayor Jonathan Cote walked to Ottawa in 2020 – without leaving New Westminster.

In December 2019, Cote decided he’d “take on the world” in the next decade by starting a walking challenge on Jan. 1, 2020 that would see him walking the equivalent of going around the world. To accomplish that goal, he determined he’d have to walk about 40,000 kilometres over the course of the decade.

“Obviously, 2020 didn’t turn out the way a lot of us had expected. But I kept going with the walking challenge,” he said. “I set a goal for the entire decade to walk the equivalent number of steps to walk around the world – which is about 55 million steps. What I was able to do in 2020 was 5.2 million steps, which is the equivalent to walking from New Westminster to essentially Ottawa.”

Before starting the decade-long resolution, Cote calculated he would have to walk about 11 kilometres a day, or about 14,500 steps, to accomplish his goal. While he did “cover a lot of ground” in 2020, Cote said he’s a bit behind schedule.

“I should be trying to average 5.5 million steps a year,” he explained. “Certainly there was a period in the spring where my step count started to go way down when we were in full lockdown mode.”

Cote embarked on the challenge with a focus on enjoying the physical benefits of walking and wanting to support efforts to build walkable cities. COVID, however, changed that in some ways.

“With the way 2020 worked, and the challenges with COVID-19 and all of the stress and anxiety, I actually found it became a bit of a mental health journey as well in realizing how important it was for me to get out of the house, go for a walk, get outside – even when days were really difficult and I was having a really bad day,” he said. “It was an interesting evolution of the goal; it became something more than just a physical health challenge and it really became an important part of working through the stress and anxiety of what 2020 threw at us.”

Cote said a 10-minute walk on a lunch break can make a world of difference.

“Sometimes when you are in the heat of the moment, particularly in crisis environment, you don’t actually give yourself time to think. It’s amazing what a half-hour walk can do. It can just calm things down and allow you to think through all the problems and challenges that you are facing,” he said. “It was certainly something that I never intended or expected to find in the first year of this challenge, but it really became more of a mental health and stress reliever, as opposed to just a physical health goal.”

In addition to daily walks around New West, Cote also joined thousands of other Lower Mainland residents in venturing to the region’s parks during the coronavirus pandemic.

Metro Vancouver recently announced it had a record-setting year in 2020, when residents flocked to regional parks for exercise and for opportunities to connect with nature. Metro Vancouver regional parks saw 16.5 million visits in 2020, which was a 38% increase from the 11.9 million visits in 2019.

“I did find, like many folks in Metro Vancouver, there was a strong desire for me and my family to better connect with nature,” Cote said. “I actually ended up taking up hiking over the spring to fall period. … There was something about this year that really spoke to wanting that better connection. I can tell by the numbers at Metro Vancouver parks that I was not alone in wanting to better connect with the natural areas in our cities.”

While COVID-19 impacts are still keeping Cote busy at city hall, he’s still committed to his 5.5 million-steps goal in 2021.

“I’m still going to keep the same goal for this year,” he said. “The early parts of the year is always challenging when the weather isn’t great but I’m still managing to get out daily for a decent walk.”


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