An event that started with a group of men getting together in Kiama every Friday morning to walk, talk and support each other has won the 2020 NSW Men's Health Award and gone national.
The Man Walk held off a strong field of finalists that also included It's A Blokes Lunch founder Joshua Tree and the Top Blokes Foundation started in Wollongong by Melissa Abu-Gazaleh.
Joshua Tree took out the NSW Local Men's Health Hero Award.
"The Man Walk, Mr Perfect and It's A Blokes Lunch feature in the top three men's health initiatives in NSW," Mr Tree said.
"And I am very humbled and honoured to have won the NSW Local Men's Health Hero Award".
The Man Walk started as just one group in Kiama but has rapidly expanded to 71 locations around Australia.
The weekly walks provide an environment that is positive, supportive and inclusive, where there is no pressure and no barriers to entry.
The idea was born when Gerringong physiotherapist Mark Burns started walking around Kiama Harbour and a few friends decided to join him. They were soon joined by complete strangers who also thought it was a great idea.
Woonona High School teacher Dave Hoole then brought the walk to Wollongong every Friday around 6am followed by a pastor at Coolangatta/Tweed who saw it on the Man Walk Facebook page when it was first launched.
"That post last June went viral and reached 1.3 million people on a Thursday night. From mid June to September we ended up with 60 more walks," Mr Burns said.
Prior to the NSW Men's Health Award being announced on Monday night by Australian Men's Health Forum, Mr Burns was told The Man Walk was the most contagious thing in Australia prior to COVID-19.
In late 2019 it went from three walks in NSW to 71 around Australia. And three more are starting this weekend in Mollymook, Mornington Peninsula and a suburb north of Perth.
"It really did explode in the back end of last year. We seemed to just hit this niche with men aged between 20 and 60," Mr Burns said.
"We have made it easy. We are blokes just out for a walk who have a general chin wag about how our day or our week is going and a talk about the footy. And then every now and then we get into a bit of a deeper convo with someone about what is going on in their life. And if someone needs more help we refer them on to professional agencies".
Mr Burns said until this week he had no idea how significant the annual Men's Health Awards were.
"We've only been involved in the Australian Men's Health Forum for a couple of months. I've been involved some of their online discussions and was just pleased to be nominated for the NSW group award. But to take out the whole NSW people's choice award for all different groups was pretty cool".
The Man Walk is now in the running for the National Men's Health Award on Friday in the Best Men's Group or Program category.
More than 5000 people across Australia have voted for the 2020 Men's Health Awards.
State and Territory winners are being announced during the week.
The national winners for each category will be decided by a judging panel from the Australian Men's Health Forum and announced on Friday via Men's Health Connected in a special event to celebrate all finalists during Men's Health Week.
Mr Burns said it was great to win such a significant award but he also enjoys hearing how worthwhile the Man Walk has been for participants.
"We have had messages from peoples saying "the Man Walk saved my life"."
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