Lee Graham, right, walks with Jean Booth at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 16. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Walk and talk

A former nurse offers conversation, companionship and motivation

When she started walking at the Canada Games Centre (CGC), Jean Booth could do two laps of the 200-metre track. That was her max. Now, after seven months of walking, Booth is up to five laps. She says she feels better. Her physiotherapist is impressed with her increased range of motion.

She didn’t get there on her own though.

“I’m not confident enough with my balance and I don’t drive anymore, so I wouldn’t go on my own,” says Booth, taking a break on a bench at the CGC. “And most of my friends I use up taking me to doctor’s appointments and stuff like that, and some of them work, so this is kind of perfect.”

“This” is walking with Lee Graham, who started Walking Company in 2017, a year before retiring from her job as a practical nurse.

In her last two years in nursing, she spent time on the medical ward at Whitehorse General Hospital, where older people were often admitted because reduced mobility meant they couldn’t live independently anymore.

“The common thing I kept hearing when they were admitted was if they could have moved around more, they could have stayed in their homes longer. They would say things like ‘if I knew somebody that could take me for a walk …’ There was that sort of common theme and then I put two and two together.”

It wasn’t easy. First of all, Revenue Canada had to create a new job classification for Walking Company. Secondly, insurance providers were stumped on how to handle a business that offered a walking partner to provide transportation, conversation and companionship.

Eventually, Graham talked to insurance providers for dog-walkers. They steered her in the right direction.

Now, Graham charges $40 an hour. For Booth, that includes transportation to the CGC, or, in the warmer months, the Millennium Trail.

They talk about the news. Booth is a fan of Trivial Pursuit, so Graham pulls up questions on her phone and they answer them together. They walk together two hours at a time (that includes a coffee break), three times a week one week, and twice the following week, on the advice of Booth’s physiotherapist.

That’s more than Graham’s other clients, most of whom are in their 70s and up. Not all of them walk. Sometimes Graham takes clients to museums, or grocery-shopping, or to doctor’s appointments. Some of them ask Graham to go with them to events put on by organizations like the Golden Age Society. They want to be involved in new things, but they’re shy about walking into a room full of strangers. Attending with Graham is easier for some. Then there are those like Booth who want a more personal experience.

“There’s no way in hell that I would go into the Golden Age Society,” says Booth. “I never have and won’t … I’m a bit more one-on-one anyway, so this is way better for me.

“It’s company, and Lee’s fun, so it’s all really nice.”

Graham, whose own interest in fitness led her to train for and enter her first body-building competition at the age of 56, says her long-term vision for Walking Company is to have people come on as contractors.

“My plan from the beginning is not to have employees but to encourage other people to become entrepreneurs,” she says.

She wants to be able to give them guidance, the same way a New York-based entrepreneur gave her when she started — she says he founded a similar business after watching high-end dog-walkers strolling the same city where he saw elderly people struggling to use the subway system alone.

Graham wants to see the benefits of physical activity get more attention from the medical community (though she noted her service is tax-deductible with a doctor’s note) and society at large.

“Ideally, I’d like to have it so that, in a perfect world … I’d like it to be as commonplace for people to say ‘oh, ok, mom can’t get around anymore so we better get someone to walk her’ as well as ‘oh, mom’s having trouble breathing so she needs a puffer.’

“The difference when people can move themselves is incredible.”

Visit walkingcompanyyukon.com for more information.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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Lee Graham, right, and Jean Booth on the track at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 16. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Lee Graham runs a walking company in which she walks at the Canada Games Centre with anyone who is looking for company during their laps. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

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