It's 5:30 in the morning and while many people are sound asleep, a group of avid walkers is ready to hit the halls of the Foothills Mall to exercise and socialize.
"We've watched as it has been built and changed," regular mall walkers Jeff and Susann Layton said of the mall and the mall-walkers' program, which today has 150 members.
The mall has been available to mall walkers since it was built in the 1980s, but nothing was organized until about five years ago.
Megan Ewald, who works for the SilverSneakers senior fitness program, started the walking program with United Healthcare and the Northwest YMCA, which offers the SilverSneakers program.
"We thought it would be a great opportunity for everyone, and it's free," Ewald said.
SilverSneakers offers activities and socializing for people 65 and older.
The mall's security guards open the mall at 5:30 a.m. every day for people to walk.
Foothills Mall organizes a meeting at 8:30 a.m. the first Wednesday of every month for mall walkers.
"We do it as a benefit for our mall walkers," said Mary Wallace, the mall's marketing coordinator.
The monthly meetings feature raffles, free refreshments, a speaker and even some stretches, if time permits.
"The speakers are always interesting and so helpful," said Dee Twiggs, 60, a regular mall walker.
Her friend Jessie Pratt, 72, chimed in: "Sometimes it's about finances or health and wellness."
The two walk Foothills Mall and Tucson Mall every week.
Many of the Foothills Mall regulars walk five days a week.
"It's an active group that doesn't sit on their hands. They make it fun," said Bill Kazaros, a United Healthcare representative and sponsor of the Foothills Mall Walker's Club.
Ewald likes how the program allows people to exercise indoors during the hot summer months, and the relationships it helps create.
Mall walking "is a very pleasant experience. The management, the people, the regulars are great. Besides, that's how we met," said Carol Ortiz, 76, who found her future husband, Henry Ortiz, 75, at Foothills Mall.
"She was walking by herself so I figured I should introduce myself," Henry said. "I liked what I saw and she liked what she saw. The rest was history."
The couple celebrated their one-year anniversary in June.
Henry helped organize the Foothills Mall Walker's Club and he volunteers for the SilverSneakers program at the Northwest YMCA.
The mall walker's program also gives SilverSneakers' participants an opportunity to get out of the gym for a change of scenery, said Blanca Montiel, the Northwest YMCA SilverSneakers coordinator.
"It gives them a place to meet people, learn new things and help make their lifestyle more healthy."
If you go
• What: Mall walking
• When: 5:30 a.m. daily
• Where: Foothills Mall, 7401 N. La Cholla Blvd.
• Cost: Free
if you go
• What: Mall walkers' meeting
• When: 8:30 a.m. the first Wednesday of every month
• Where: In the food court at Foothills Mall, 7401 N. La Cholla Blvd.
• Cost: Free; refreshments are provided
• Details: Go to www.shopfoothillsmall.com/events.html or call 219-0650.
Stephanie Fousse is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-7776.