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Rally founders look back at 20 years

BIG CYPRESS — Back at the turn of the millennium, Connie Whidden and Suzanne Davis, who both worked in the Tribe’s health department, were looking for a way to get Tribal members to increase their physical activity.

“We were working with people who had diabetes,” said Davis, Integrative Health program manager. “It’s really important for those people to remain active.”

Working together with Edna McDuffie, Mitchell Cypress and Helene Buster, they tapped into their passion for fitness and walking.

They wanted to create an event that would be fun and inspire people to keep moving even after the event was over.

“We wanted to have it at the beginning of the year to inspire people to get involved in fitness and bring them together to have a good time,” Davis said. “The sense of competition gives it a fun twist.”

About 380 people showed up for the first Rez Rally, which surprised Davis.

“We didn’t have enough T-shirts to go around,” Davis said. “That’s when we said we have to continue this.”

Rez Rally has been an annual event ever since that first one in 2000.

Andrew Bowers Jr. competes at Rez Rally in the middle of a pack of runners. (Photo Beverley Bidney)

“I was there at the beginning and I have seen this grow and grow,” said McDuffie, health outreach coordinator. “Now I see so many of our people walking and running, the younger ones too. This is what we do for our health.”

Every reservation has a team to get the community involved and interested in competing with other reservations.

It all starts in October with health department sponsored walks, pedometer and fitness programs to get people in shape for the January rally.

It’s no coincidence that the training begins and goes through the holiday eating season.

“We are all watching football, gathering for Thanksgiving and eating more than usual,” Davis said. “Keeping the activity level up at that time of year is important.”

Rez Rally’s more than 640 participants this year prove the event is a success.

“I love the energy of all the people,” said Whidden. “I do it for my health and walk two or three times a week with my sister [Patty Waldron]. It makes me feel good; I am not diabetic and I have no hypertension. I have some heart issues so my doctor told me to start walking years ago. My heart is stronger now than ever. He said whatever I’m doing, to keep doing it. So I keep doing it and will continue to walk as long as I am able.”

Hollywood team leaders Michael Cantu and Francine Osceola join Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola and Board Rep. Gordon Wareham with the winning trophy for the reservation with the most participation at Rez Rally. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Both walking and running can provide positive health benefits.

For some people, running pushes the heart and improves cardiovascular health more than walking.

But walking and movement of any kind improves circulation and brings oxygen to the body. It’s also less likely to sustain an injury while walking.

“Movement makes a huge difference in physical and mental health,” Davis said. “It’s a great form of therapy for your body. When you add the community and the rapport with other people at Rez Rally, it adds a synergy and helps people move to a better place of wellness.”

Davis is inspired by people who make real changes in their lives because of Rez Rally.

“The 20th year is special, it’s the start of a new decade,” Davis said. “The event is huge, but what happens afterward is also important.”

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at