Thriving post COVID, JA Maine’s fitness challenge sheds its “virtual” label

Before last year's challenge, roughly 40 participants got together for beverages and a pose with the LL Bean Bootmobile.
Before last year’s challenge, roughly 40 participants got together for beverages and photos with L.L. Bean’s Bootmobile.

Since sponsoring its first virtual race in June 2020, Junior Achievement of Maine has come a long way… in fact, precisely 42,247 virtual miles.

In 2020, in the shadow of initial COVID lock downs, JA Maine’s first virtual race had 183 racers who collectively covered 6,532 miles over two weeks.

In JA Maine’s 2021 and 2022 races, participants covered a total of 14,866 and 21,149 miles respectively in two weeks, converting activities ranging from running, cycling, yoga, gardening and many others into miles on a digital route around Maine.

To date, nearly 1,000 people have participated in the JA Maine June fitness challenges. Money has also piled up from registrations, donations and corporate sponsorships. The 2022 race raised a record $30,346, up from $20,965 in 2021 and $14,115 in 2020.

The 2023 race has even shed the “virtual” label, says Abby Rioux, JA of Maine development coordinator, who managed the event last year and this. “We don’t call it a virtual challenge anymore—that reminds people of COVID. Now it’s a wellness challenge. You’re out in the community getting active, moving with other people. That could be at the gym or a walk with a neighbor.”

For two weeks in June, participants move along a route around Maine based on their exercise near home or at the gym.

As befits an organization that educates kids and young adults about business and habits for success, there’s been some tinkering and innovation along the way.

Presented in 2020 as a 26.2 mile race from Bar Harbor to Southwest Harbor for individuals, the challenge in 2022 had 95 teams of up to five people competing on a route of 1,150 miles, and the 2023 race will feature teams of up to ten competing on a similar length route. Adding teams to the mix creates an extra layer of competition and socializing, plus additional marketing leverage, since each team’s captain helps recruit a team and encourage fundraising.

Some sponsor donations for 2022’s fitness challenge.

This year’s race may include other innovations.

  • Racers will register on Racery’s new splash registration page, which offers extra space for text, images and sponsor logos.
  • The logo of the event’s premiere sponsor, LL Bean, will be featured on the personalized digital bibs each racer receives.
  • Racers have the option of locating their personal avatars on their hometowns in the event’s pre-launch map.
  • Emailed postcards triggered when a team crosses a certain mile marker will highlight spots on the route reward sponsors.
  • Each team’s participation rate per week will be calculated and displayed.
  • Racers can earn five miles on the race route for each hour of JA volunteering.
  • JA will host a thematic photo contest based on photos submitted by racers when they log activities, fostering content for a potential post-event sizzle reel.

As in life and business, JA Maine’s persistence has inspired loyal fans. Participating companies love the event, says Rioux. “We get feedback every year from companies who say, ‘we do a few virtual races for different organizations, and this Racery challenge is by far the most user friendly.’ We get that a lot.”

[Here’s a post about JA of South Dakota’s virtual fitness and fundraising challenges hosted by Racery.]