WESTERLY — Two Westerly women have embarked on a challenge in honor of Westerly's 350th anniversary that has them literally pounding the pavement.
Georgia Panagopoulos and Lisa Raiche have decided to walk — or run — up and down each of the roughly 700 streets in Westerly, not only as part of their regular fitness routine, but as a way to get to really know the region — and one another — on deeper level. As they walk, they take snapshots of what we see with the idea of creating a photo collage of their journey.
"What better way to get to know a place," said Panagopoulos, 60, a native of Olympia, Greece, who moved to Westerly via Berlin, Conn., a few years back. "You get to see it all."
"And we've met some amazing people," said Raiche, 55, a real estate agent who owns Town & Shore Realty. "It's been fun hearing stories and meeting new people and it's helpful in my real estate business."
The two friends said they've have also been struck by the differences in Westerly's landscape, architecture and property values, from the woods to the ocean and in between.
"You can go from a $35 million home to a $235 thousand home," said Raiche, a Waterford, Conn.-native who has lived in Westerly since 1988. It's the town where she raised her children: Taylor, 25, Zachary, 24, Brianna, 23 and Chad, 2.
Raiche said the walking challenge has been wonderful for her friendship with Panagopoulos, and wonderful for her fitness. "And it's great to be outdoors," she added.
Panagopoulos said she enjoys everything about their shared walks, especially seeing new places.
"I'd never been to Shelter Harbor before," said Panagopoulos one chilly afternoon last week as she and Raiche walked through Weekapaug. "You never get bored because each time we go out I say, 'I wonder what we'll see today?'"
And then there are the unexpected surprises, like the "pink doll house" tucked away in the woods off Shore Road and the vegetable garden in the backyard of a chatty "older gentleman" who invited them in for wine one afternoon as they walked through the Boiling Spring Avenue neighborhood.
"You'd never know unless you were walking," said Panagopoulos, an Aetna retiree who spent her career as an accountant. "There have been some funny stories."
Panagopoulos and Raiche struck up a friendship one day in Weekapaug when each woman was out on a solo run.
"It was her lipstick," said Panagopoulos with a laugh. "She wears red lipstick when she's running. That kind of stood out."
"We've been hanging out ever since," added Panagopoulos, a veteran runner who has completed dozens of marathons, including Boston and Athens, and plans to run the London Marathon in three weeks. "We have the same passion for exercise and he same energy level," she added.
On a February walk, the two came up with the idea of the "incredible walking/running journey" as a way to be part of the town's 350th anniversary in an inspiring, challenging, fitness-focused fashion, Panagopoulos said. Once they made the decision, they went to the Chamber of Commerce office, picked up a street map, and began mapping out their routes.
"We pick a section and then we do the streets in clusters," said Panagopoulos, who keeps track of the streets the two have walked. "One neighborhood at a time."
"What better time than now, with the 350th celebration, to do something like this?" Panagopoulos asked. "Really, if anyone wants to join us, please do."
"We're more than half way through," said Panagopoulos, the married mother of three daughters, Athina, 39; Denise, 35, and Angela, 23; and two, grandchildren; Mackenzie, 3, and Hudson, 1. "Our goal is to finish with this adventure by end of year."
"And we're recruiting people as we go along," said Panagopoulos, who has a part-time job as a certified coach with the Road Runners Club of America.
Panagopoulos said she was also inspired by a similar challenge she completed recently in the Nutmeg State, for which she earned a crown and a new moniker.
"I have walked or run in all 169 towns in Connecticut," she said. "I am the queen."