KAYSVILLE — Trishelle Duncan was diagnosed with epilepsy three years ago. As a result of the diagnosis, she is not able to drive.
“It was kind of devastating. I felt like I kind of lost my independence,” Duncan said. “... I was dealing with the depression that comes with ... that sort of diagnosis, and I remember kind of being forced into walking.
“And at first it was really tedious having to carve out more time in my day and to stop what I’m doing at home ... checking off that list ... So in a way, that diagnosis was kind of a blessing because ... I had to learn how to stop and slow down for a little bit. It’s been such a benefit to our family.”
Duncan said the early period of walking was a dark time for her family.
Her children had witnessed her seizures, which was a traumatic experience, and due to the stress at that time, it was difficult to get them to do anything, including walking.
But after slogging through for a while at the beginning, walking is now a habit for them — just something they do every day.
Duncan said the family has learned to be present with each other, since they’re not connected to devices while they’re walking.
“I would like to think that my kids have become better listeners to each other in the process of walking to school,” Duncan said. “Another benefit has been we have become a little bit more aware of our physical activity ... our kids have literally walked hundreds of miles in (a year).”
Duncan has six children. She walks to school with her younger children. She has a child in junior high and high school, and they both walk to school, too.
Her oldest child is attending Salt Lake Community College, and she’s continued the family tradition of walking and using public transit.
In 2018, Duncan got connected to the Utah Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes program, which encourages parents to walk to school with their children, in part because walking reduces car traffic in school zones, making them safer.
“I was so impressed with it,” Duncan said. “By the time that I was introduced to Safe Routes, we had been walking for a while, and we’d been really seeing the benefit of doing so, and I reached out to them to let them know that I really appreciated what they were doing ... and we just we just built up a relationship from there talking about ... what’s important to us as a family and ... really understanding what they’re advocating for.”
Now she works with Safe Routes to share the message of the benefits of walking to school with other families across her community and Utah.
According to the program’s website, “the goal of Safe Routes Utah is to help children get to and from school safely while motivating children to experience the benefits of walking or biking to school.”
Program staff run assemblies at schools to teach about safe walking practices, and the program website (saferoutes.utah.gov) has a tool where parents can find safe walking routes to their children’s schools.
The program has also launched the “Walk and Roll Challenge,” where youth can be entered in a monthly drawing to win prizes — like scooters — for walking and biking to school.
For many families where both parents work outside their homes, the logistics of walking to school can be tricky.
“I am one of those parents,” said Kristen Hoschouer, safety outreach administrator with UDOT. “What I do, is I ... pull up ... blocks away from the school, and I walk with (my son) up to school, and then he gets to walk with me for a bit of a distance, and then I just run back to my car ... but as a working parent, it is ... difficult sometimes to find that time, but if I make enough time in the morning, I can get it all done.”
Her son doesn’t mind the approach.
“He actually loves it,” Hoschouer said. Sometimes he’ll request that she park farther from the school.
“It seems like such a simple thing, but it can make a huge difference for families,” Duncan said. “I know it can.”