Healthy You Program Gets 99 Teams to Compete in Wellesley Walking Challenge

June 20, 2014
7 people including Police Chief Lisa Barbin laugh together

On Thursday, June 19, members of Wellesley faculty and staff celebrated the conclusion of an eight-week walking challenge that pitted teams of five in friendly competition with one another.

An initiative of Wellesley’s Healthy You program, the challenge was set up to encourage greater fitness and fitness awareness among people who work at Wellesley. Healthy You is part of the Boston Consortium for Higher Education, an organization of 15 area colleges and universities that fosters collaboration on the development and practical implementation of  cost saving and quality improvement ideas.

As Wellesley's Benefits Manager Marymichele Delaney explains, Healthy You tries to counter the ever-growing expense of health care by helping its members need less health care. “The idea is that if people change their habits, it will make them healthier. Healthier people are not only happier and more productive, they also have lower insurance claims, so we all save money,” she says. The walking challenge is just one of a number of Healthy You programs that address physical fitness, mental health, and balance.

And this one was a particular success. “Based on other programs we’d seen,” Delaney says, “we thought we might have 100, maybe 150 people sign up. We thought if we hit 200 it would be amazing. We had 500 people sign up!”

People signed up as teams of five or as individuals whom organizers placed on teams. Each participant was given a Fitbit tracker, ensuring everyone in the challenge counted steps the same way. The sign-up day was a scramble for HR workers and Sue Glover, health and wellness coordinator for The Boston Consortium, who directed Wellesley’s challenge and is implementing similar programs at other area schools. They had to keep going back to their offices—and finally suppliers—to get enough of the devices for the turnout.

Team captains reported their team's total steps each week, and the challenge became a common topic of conversation across campus, as people checked the devices on their wrists or in their pockets. How many flights of stairs do you rack up going from the Davis Parking Structure to Green Hall? Is a Fitbit waterproof? What's the most steps you've done in a day? Does it distract your colleagues when you jog in place during a meeting?

Safe to say, the challenge succeeded in its goals and was a hit with participants. Not only did walkers log 258,266,661 cumulative steps—enough to stroll to San Francisco and back 19 times—but habits were indeed changed, and awareness raised.  

For example, Rick Barnabe, group leader HVAC and master mechanic, has an active job and during the challenge basically stuck to his normal routine, but he did notice little changes. "It's like being on a diet where you think about everything you put in your mouth," Barnabe says. "This has the same effect. You think about it, so you take the stairs instead of taking the elevator."

Dick Dorval, sheet metal mechanic, also skips the elevators. And he no longer sits down at his computer first thing when he arrives on campus. Inspired by the challenge, Dorval goes right to the track where he completes three miles and some 36 flights of bleachers. He does another two miles at lunch and, if he hadn't yet reached 30,000 steps, he gets on the treadmill when he gets home. He calls this routine his "new normal."

The organizers added some fun features along the way, offering group walks, drop-in workout sessions, and tips for boosting activity. They also awarded prizes for most improvement, standout weeks, and even team names. The team Lost in Pace won that one, a tough choice out of 99 very inventive names, including The Sleepwalkers, Blister Sisters, Clapptrap, iLappedU, Peripatetic, Scrambled Legs, and many others (heavy on the hamhanded puns) that often revealed the department identity of the team. Could we guess where the Mathletes, Dismal Scientists, or Art & Sole were centered?

Organizers also offered the chance for participants to nominate an "unsung hero," and these were announced at the closing celebration. They were:

  • Megan Brooks
  • Magdalen Christian
  • Holly Cronos
  • Dick Dorval
  • Jael Matos
  • Rhys Price Jones
  • Betsy Starr
  • Ann Sullivan
  • Tanya Sullivan
  • Cathy Summa
  • Anthony Turco
  • Anne Yu

The team with the most steps at the end of the competition was The Walkie Talkies, led by Chief of Police Lisa Barbin. She gave her team daily challenges, such as take a photo of a robin (resulting in pictures of birds, Batman's cohort, name tags reading "Hello, I'm Robin," and other creative interpretations). And as teammate Corinne Frazer, director of Summer Session, recalls, "She demanded we listen to Eye of the Tiger three times before bed each night.”

Whatever the motivation or results, the shared challenge united participants and brought fitness to the top of mind for spring. Organizers are planning for a repeat challenge next spring, so Wellesley community, stay tuned and, says Delaney, "We encourage employees to continue to walk with their teams all year long!"

As Sue Glover notes, "Everyone is a winner who was motivated to do a little more activity than they were doing before."