The good folks at the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service would like nothing better than to see every Kansan walk the width of their home state.
118Teams in Douglas County participating in Walk Kansas718 Douglas Country residents involved in Walk Kansas423 Minimum-miles goal for each six-person team8 Weeks each team is permitted to compile miles96 Douglas County teams that completed at least the mininum goal15 Minutes of exercise that equals 1 Walk Kansas "mile"3,460 Walk Kansas teams statewide20,762 Walk Kansas participants statewide
Not all at once, mind you, in one hellacious hike. No, make it an eight-week stroll.
And not solo. No, feel free to recruit five teammates and tag-team it.
Walking's not your thing? Don't worry. According to the KSU folks' formula, 15 minutes of activity - in cycling, say, or running or weight lifting or swimming or yoga - equals one "mile."
That's the essence of Walk Kansas, a 5-year-old health initiative designed to encourage fitness across the state by getting Kansans to walk - figuratively - across it.
"It's really to motivate people to exercise," said Susan Krumm, an extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. "We know when people have a buddy to exercise with, they're more likely to do it. When they have to be accountable to someone, they're more likely to do it."
The program has grown exponentially.
In 2002, there were around 5,000 participants. This year's Walk Kansas event - the eight-week program just ended earlier this month - drew 20,762 participants statewide.
In Douglas County alone, there were 718 participants on 118 teams.
"We're thrilled with this year," Krumm said. "It's the most we've ever had."
Nuts and bolts
Walk Kansas is a simple enough program.
A team captain recruits five teammates, and the six team members - after registering and ponying up a $10 fee - keep track of their weekly exercise. Captains report the numbers to the county extension office, and team members can watch their mileage accumulate.
This year's event ran March 11-May 5.
The program's goal is to get every team to "walk" 423 miles, the length of the state. With six members per team, that works out to 1.75 miles - or 30 minutes of exercise - a day for five days over the eight weeks.
"What's really great about this program," Krumm said, "is that it's a wonderful workplace wellness program. We have teams that come from a lot of locations like educational facilities, school districts, the university setting. It's a great way to motivate people in the workplace to get involved."
Of the 118 Douglas County teams, 96 completed the 423-mile goal.
A team named NYAD - it stands for Not Your Average Doll - led the county with 1,564 collective miles.
So much for walking Kansas; NYAD basically walked from Lawrence to Los Angeles.
"We had a ringer," Pat McAlister, NYAD team captain, said with a laugh. "The daughter of one of our team members swims for the Aquahawks. She's a sixth-grader. She was doing 40 to 60 miles a week."
With the exception of its ringer, NYAD is made of teachers at Broken Arrow Elementary. McAlister said an e-mail from the school nurse resulted in two or three teams from Broken Arrow.
In McAlister's case, Walk Kansas served as motivation for training.
"I'm really into getting a lot of exercise," she said. "I'm trying to train for a the minitriathlon in July, so I'll do anything that will get me out and motivate me."
McAlister said she ran, swam, lifted weights and did pilates as part of her Walk Kansas work. She lost 10 pounds over the eight weeks.
"It really kept me motivated," she said. "If you know one of the other members of your team is out there, it would make me get out and walk or do some exercise. You want to pull your own weight. In fact, since it's been over, I've been kinda lazy."
NYAD didn't set out to set the standard for county teams.
"I don't know that we necessarily had a goal to be the first ones, but some of us are kind of competitive," McAlister said with a laugh. "I don't think it was our goal. We just wanted to get out there and do it, but it was a good motivator."
'It was fun'
At the other end of the scale is the Mustangs team, which just squeaked in over minimum with 433 collective miles.
"We enjoyed it. It was fun," said team captain Linda Egner.
Egner had done Walk Kansas before, "a couple of years ago."
This time around, she captained a team made of family members.
"My daughter is getting married, and her step-daughter is young," Egner said. "She used to take karate, but she quite and was becoming kind of a couch potato. My daughter said, 'Mom, what can I do? How can I do it an be nice about it and not have a negative body image?' I said, 'Hey, we can do Walk Kansas together.'
"So we did it basically for the little girl. We told her what it was about. She got to pick out the name. I think she really enjoyed it. I know she liked logging on and seeing our progress."
It wasn't without its hiccups.
Egner suffered a few personal problems and served as an alternate as a juror on a high-profile local case, and her daughter was harried with her impending marriage.
"It was one of those things were we had a lot that went on," Egner said. "So my son bailed us out on the miles. But not all of it. My daughter with her fiance's little girl did most of their exercising together. They did the Trolley Run together. That was a secondary goal because of this. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like it's that well publicized. But I think it's great, especially for kids or trying to encourage a couple of co-workers. With six people on a team, it takes so little, really."
'It's a kick in the pants'
Kathy Pribbenow is a Walk Kansas veteran.
She has participated in four of the program's five years. She didn't walk last year because of recurring migraines, but she returned this year with the IS-Steppers team.
"I think it's just great," Pribbenow said. "I love it. That first year, I lost a lot of weight. That's what made me keep coming back. It got me up and off the coach. It got my whole family involved. It's a kick in the pants to get active."
A technical trainer at Kansas University, all of Pribbenow's teams have centered around her office.
Her success stories - she said she lost 25 pounds in the program's first year and about 10 more this year - have encouraged friends and co-workers to form their own teams.
"I'm in Weight Watchers this year. A couple of weeks before the start of this year's (Walk Kansas), I mentioned they were doing it again, and wouldn't it be nice if a bunch of people got teams together," Pribbenow said. "We had two teams in our office. We ended up with about seven teams in Weight Watchers, and they all went back to their own respective offices and started their own teams."
That word-of-mouth growth keeps Pribbenow on the lookout every spring.
"I think it's kind of interesting, when it starts every year," she said, "I see people out walking around and wonder if they're walking for this, too."