Step by step

I stopped on my way home to order Chinese takeout for dinner the other night. Usually I spend the brief wait time on my cell phone, catching up on email and the next day’s weather forecast.

Not this time. Instead, I headed outside, crossed the road and circled a nearby church parking lot as fast I could walk for 12 minutes. It was dark and a little chilly and possibly not as well lit as ideal safety would dictate, but boy, did it feel good. Because … steps.

My company has been holding a “Walk to Disney” step challenge for the past several weeks. I’m part of a team of four trying to accumulate 904,000 steps to cover the 452 miles from our office location to Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom in 26 days. (Spoiler alert #1: We got there in the first two weeks and are well on the way home.) The Sole Sistas (see what we did there?) are competing against 211 other employees on dozens of teams with cool names like Holey Walkamolies and Cirque du Sore Legs to log the most steps. (Spoiler alert #2: The final results won’t be known for a week after I’m writing this, but we’re looking reaaally good right now.)


Besides being a lot of fun and burning off some stubborn calories that mysteriously glommed onto my midsection after — not during — the holidays, I’ve learned a lot from this challenge. Some of these are more like duh-huhs but apparently I needed reminding.


  1. Being on a team working toward a goal together is both fun and motivating. All the gals in my group were already very active, but none of us wanted to be the “anchor” holding the team back. So we all kicked it up a notch, adding second daily workouts, joining neighborhood walking clubs and obsessively carrying our phones or smart watches to track every possible step. When one team member fell victim to the flu, the healthy ones had her back by adding even more activity.
  2. It’s easy to get complacent. I’ve been a distance runner for decades, usually walk when I play golf, almost always take the stairs at work, lift weights once or twice a week and take an occasional yoga class. But surprise: It wasn’t as much exercise as I thought. 10,000 steps a day? Pfff, piece of cake … not. I found I’d been overestimating my activity and had lots of room for improvement. Hmm, the mysterious holiday pounds might not be so mysterious after all.
  3. People will do anything to win a key chain. OK, that one’s not true. Yes, a company-branded lighted key chain is the only prize all but the top 4 or 5 people will win, but they’re not really participating for the prize. Rather, it’s all about the friendly competition and the challenge of seeing how well you can do. Many departments have their own internal rivalry going on — the top prize is barely on their radar.
  4. Fitness challenges can engage anyone. One of the most exciting things to me about this program has been the participation by the “non-athletes” among us. Evidence: We have walking workstations in a few locations around the building — treadmills with a place to plug in your laptop, so you can walk for 30 minutes while you’re on a conference call or checking email. Use of these workstations skyrocketed when the challenge was announced. Clearly, even people who had little chance of “winning” started stepping it up. Whether for better health or just to be part of a fun event, it really doesn’t matter.

Of course, the real success of the challenge will be if people continue their increased activity long-term. It would be cool if teammates kept in touch and kept each other accountable. Maybe those intra-department rivalries will spark new competitions of their own.

For me, I’m already thinking of ways to maintain at least some of the intensity and focus of the past month. I noticed Ash Wednesday falls just a few days after the challenge ends. So instead of giving up chocolate, I’m going to commit to at least 3 days a week of two-a-day workouts.

There probably won’t be an LED key chain waiting in my Easter basket, but I think I’ve already seen the light.



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