DURANT, Okla. (KTEN) — The Choctaw Nation begins its third annual Virtual Trail of Tears on March 1, combining healthy living with tribal history.

The Virtual Trail of Tears challenges participants to complete a three-month program mimicking the path the Choctaw and other tribes took to reach Indian Territory — now Oklahoma — during a forced displacement from their ancestral homelands in the Deep South in 1831.

The idea started during the COVID-19 pandemic when the Choctaw Preventative Health Department realized they needed to figure out how to keep people moving while in quarantine.

They combined the existing Trail of Tears Commemorative Walk with a virtual step-counter.

"It's a three-month course," explained health director Michele Gibson. "To complete it, you have to walk 14,000 steps a day, because it's a 500-mile journey."

When participants reach certain milestones, they're rewarded with tidbits of information about where they are along the trail, keeping alive the memory of what the tribes endured.

"It tells the story of the journey of the Trail of Tears, what they endured," Gibson said. "The elements, the starvation, the exposure, the disease... it was a hard walk."

Steps are recorded with the Walker Tracker smartphone app. If 14,000 steps seems daunting, people can form teams to split the steps up between them.

The walk proved to be such a success that the amount of slots for participants this year had to be increased from 1,000 to 1,200. Gibson said they even had participants from as far as Canada and Australia.

Only a few of the 1,200 slots are still open. More information about how to register can be found on the Choctaw Nation website.