If you see crowds of people strolling downtown San Antonio next week, those aren’t just ordinary tourists — they’re serious walkers from around the world.
An international walking festival will bring more than a thousand people from 26 nations and most U.S. states to San Antonio starting Sunday to participate in eight days worth of noncompetitive walking, swimming and biking events.
The International Federation of Popular Sports (IVV) is holding its annual Olympiad walking festival in North America for the first time. The Olympiad event is being held in conjunction with another walking festival, the International Marching League’s Texas Trail Roundup.
The American Volkssports Association: America’s Walking Club is a member of both walking groups and is the festival’s host.
The national headquarters of the AVA, which has nearly 200 member clubs nationwide, is in Southtown. The local club hosts weekend walks at parks that attract between 20 to 100 people.
Susan Medlin, AVA vice president and Texas Trail Roundup president, helped bring the walking festival to San Antonio because she wanted to attract people from overseas to her hometown and share its historic Spanish colonial culture, said Susan Alton, an AVA club member.
People from Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Taiwan, Japan, China, Pakistan, Finland and other countries have already registered to attend the weeklong event.
During the festival, participants can take part in noncompetitive biking, swimming and walking events, with different routes each time along the city’s trails, parkways and other urban routes.
“It’s a really great event for San Antonio to be able to host all these people from all over the world,” said Alton, who has been a member of the AVA Walking Club since 1997.
The Community Walk that will kick off the festival on Sunday is open to anyone who registers and pays a $3 fee to participate in either a 5K or 10K walk. The Community Walk route will start from the historic King William District.
Those who wish to register ahead of the event may do so online. In-person registration for certain walks during the week will begin at the Fiesta Ballroom at the La Quinta hotel at 7 a.m. Sunday and registration for the Community Walk begins at King William Park at 9 a.m The walk will start at 10 a.m.
The festival’s opening ceremony at the Arneson River Theatre will be held after the walk at 1:45 p.m. See a full schedule of events here.
Walking distances range from 3.1 miles to 26 miles and will take place on trails, parkways and urban routes across downtown, including the River Walk and the Mission Reach.
Biking events will take place at the same locations as the walking routes, and swimming events will take place at the Northside Independent School District Aquatic Center.
For the full week of activities, a $170 registration fee will cover all walking, swimming and biking events, plus daily admission to the festival’s Olympiad Village at La Villita. There, attendees can expect food trucks and live entertainment, Alton said.
Alton said the original AVA Walking Club first started in the late 1970s in Fredericksburg. These days, the club is on a mission to attract more families and younger people to join.
“It’s about so much more” than just walking, Alton said. “I love the outdoors, I love getting fresh air in my lungs and seeing the beauty of nature. I love to walk along the River Walk and look at all the birds. It’s just great for your soul.”
The next Olympiad will be hosted in Finland, according to the website.
This article has been updated to reflect that the national headquarters of the American Volkssports Association: America’s Walking Club is located in Southtown.