Portland resident Amy Theberge organized the relay to help people stay active physically and mentally.

COURTESY PHOTO - Going the Social Distance Relay will be held online on Sunday, April 19.

With gyms closed, people are finding new ways to exercise during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Portland resident Amy Theberge said she was sad about not participating in relays this summer, but wanted to help others stay active during the COVID-19 crisis.

Her solution, a digital relay race.

Theberge's "Going the Social Distance Relay" is set for Sunday, April 19. Each team consists of eight runners, including a team captain at the helm. People then run on their own while staying in touch with their team digitally.

"As we have been mandated to stay apart, it's important to me to try to figure out how to continue to bring people together," said Theberge, who works as an event planner.

"This is not an event that's happening all at once," explained Theberge. "A team captain recruits their team, starts a group chat and assigns the legs and all of that stuff like you do for regular relay."

The upcoming event is the second relay Theberge has organized. She said it was great to see people trying to keep as close to the real thing as possible.

"All 55 team captains were instructed to send a group text out to everybody saying, 'Leg one runners stretch out, lace up and hydrate,'" described Theberge.

People can also share their relay progress on the event's Instagram page @goingthesocialdistancerelay. Theberge said the page has so far received thousands of tags from more than 500 runners all over the world. So far, she counted runners from 17 different states and more than 50 cities participating.

"I had a runner chatting with me on his leg while he was in Prague," she added. "(It) was really humbling and amazing to see that happen."

If runners want officials to verify each leg, then participating in the relay costs $80, or $35 for a more relaxed approach. People can still run with the lower entry fee but won't have the results verified.

The funds from the relay will then go towards Meals on Wheels People.

"The seniors in our community are some of the hardest impacted by this," Theberge said. "We wanted to be able to support a vulnerable segment of our population and simply help out."

She hopes the relay will help others with their mental health and fitness.

"Giving people a sense of just wellbeing and fun," Theberge said. "Something to look forward to and not just seeing all of the negativity in the news. … This is a great way to keep in touch with a group of friends as well as encouraging each other to get out there and move your bodies."

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