Beckley Buddy Walk – Blog post from DS Connex

The planning for Beckley Buddy Walk is coming together . We have had the honor of teaming up this year with DS-Connex a wonderful organization that works with buddy walks across the nation helping them make their Walks extra Special. Just like our families.  Here is Blog post the wrote about our walk – We hope you are making plans to join us.


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Author: Lara Kretler, ds-connex team member

Buddy Walk Date: Saturday, October 4th, 2014
Who: Down Syndrome Support Group of Southern West Virginia
Location: New River Park, Beckley, WV
Buddy Walk website:
Beckley Down With That organization website:

The Beckley, WV Buddy Walk® event is back for a second year with the tagline: Beckley Buddy Walk 2, The Sequel. With a name like that, the Beckley Buddy Walk is sure to be a good time!

Organizer Lola Rizer, who is a radio personality in Beckley, says the Buddy Walk feels almost like a small family reunion – but one that is growing fast. In a tradition beginning last year, the Beckley Buddy Walk event kicks off the first day of a longstanding West Virginia celebration known as the Rocket Boys Festival. The Festival honors the life and work of Homer Hickam, an American author, Vietnam veteran and former NASA engineer whose story was told in the popular 1999 movie October Sky.

Beckley Buddy Walk Blog Picture

“I was approached to create a Buddy Walk as part of the Rocket Boys festival. They were looking for an event to kick off the day, and my husband and I were working with the Rocket Boys festival in general and it was suggested that maybe we do a Buddy Walk because there wasn’t one for this area. We said sure, let’s do one, that was how it all started, it was kind of a, Hey, why not, let’s do this and see what happens, and the response was amazingly overwhelming,” says Lola.

When asked what she remembers most about the inaugural Beckley Buddy Walk event last year, Lola laughingly says that probably the most talked-about moment was the impromptu mascot dance-off. This spontaneous dance party started in the pavilion with several family members, and everyone was having a wonderful time. “Several mascots, including the University of Charleston Beckley campus eagle mascot and the Chick-fil-A cow, were dancing with the families, having a wonderful time, and apparently a challenge was made and the dance-off began, and it was quite the time – thank God we have video!” she adds.

Lola shares that a lot of the families really appreciate that the event focuses on family activities, having something for the little guys to do, with a wide range of ages accounted for. “We have a lot of older participants that have older family members with Down syndrome, but then we also have a lot of little guys, toddlers and younger family members as well, so we really tried to focus on having activities that covered everybody, from having fire trucks and those type of activities available down to having sensory play areas: sand, bubble art, balloons, face painting and games. Something for everybody, and never a dull moment across the board, so that there is always something going on while you are here.”

Asked to describe the culture of this southern WV Buddy Walk event, Lola says that what makes it special is not having to travel far to get to such a special celebration. “People are telling me that they’re really happy that there’s one in Beckley. It’s a nice central location, where we are here at a crossroads, right off of a major interstate, there’s relatively easy access to major thoroughfares so it makes perfect sense to have one here just for the traffic part of it. Now that we’ve done it, it’s beyond me why somebody hasn’t done it before.”

As with other Buddy Walk events, the funds raised will go to local support programs in the community, including dance classes. “Our Yes I can dance program, our Yes I can yoga class, our Yes I can swim class which we’ve just started in this area but we’re very excited about,” says Lola. “In addition, if funds allow, a sensory playground project will hopefully be built right there at New River Park where we’re going to be having our Buddy Walk, so we’ll have a place for families to have meetings and things like that right there. We’re hoping to raise a ton of money for our sensory playground.”

The Beckley Buddy Walk takes on the feel of a family reunion because it is, in many ways, just that – a gathering of individuals who make up the local Down syndrome community or family. “I met people that I’ve never met before at the last Buddy Walk event and I’ve also really connected with people that – I don’t know if they’ve realized it or not – they’ve made a huge impact on my life. People who have inspired me to kind of keep going with the projects that we’ve started. Whenever I’m out and I’m working on a project, I refer to “my families.” Every person, every family that comes to a Buddy Walk event, I consider them my families. They’re my extended family. Everything that we try to do at a Buddy Walk, I do for my families, and so for me it’s a family reunion.”

How did Lola and the Beckley Buddy Walk event organizers decide to call year two “The Sequel”? Lola explains: “Everybody was doing “the second annual.” I thought oh, we’ve got to do something different, something creative. Last year was the inaugural Beckley Buddy Walk and we were talking about movie names and my husband suggested, “how about we call it Beckley Buddy Walk 2: The Sequel.” And I was like, “Oh, I like that.” And so we decided to play off of that a little bit, and so our tagline after that is “we are stars” and we’ll have a movie theme. I am going to get star signs, and all of our Buddies will have their names written on their star signs along their walk path, so we’re going to have a Star walk of fame with all of our Buddies’ names on them, and they’ll get to take their stars home with them at the end of the walk. And we’re going to encourage them to dress up like their favorite movie star or movie character, or if they want to dress up like a pirate or a princess, whatever they want to do.”

She is especially looking forward to fellow radio personality Big Ugly Dave Willis serving as DJ again, plus all of the activities that they had last year will be back. “We’re going to have professional photographer Shelley Johnson on site again, Concord University will be setting up another sensory playground with sand, bubbles, and chalk. New River Community and Technical College will be back again, Starbucks, face painting, balloon animals, fire trucks, ambulance people, and we are just going to be expanding off of that and possibly having even more stuff!”

When asked what she hopes for at this year’s event, Lola shares that she would love to see of course even more people be a part of it. “But I hope that if anything else, it becomes more of a tradition, that people put it on their calendars every year, that it’s one of those things that other people look forward to each year as much as I do.”

The Beckley Buddy Walk® takes place at New River Park in Beckley on Saturday, October 4 from 9 am to 11 am. “It’s on Adair St, near the Exhibition Coal Mine and Youth Museum, up on the hill,” says Lola. To register or donate, visit the Beckley Buddy Walk® Stride site at To learn more about Down With That, visit their website at


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