The payoff was well worth the effort, said Nancy Pihl, who coordinates the local version of the program offered through the Kansas State Extension Service office in Marion.
?I think we had a good year,? Pihl said.
Walk Kansas is an eight-week exercise and diet program that encourages family members, schoolmates, co-workers, friends and neighbors to come together as a team for the sake of health and fitness.
A team captain will recruit five other people to make a six-member team that sets a goal to collectively walk 423 miles, the distance across Kansas.
The 24 teams include members that cover the age range from elementary school to senior citizens. They hail, literally and figuratively, from many walks of life and home towns.
?It?s county-wide and there are some members from out of county, or even out of state,? Pihl said. ?Some teams maybe needed one or two more members, so they called a grandma or somebody else to fill in.?
Walking is the point of emphasis, but team members can substitute other forms of moderate physical activity, with every 15 minutes of effort equaling one mile.
This year, of the 24 teams were formed across Marion County, eight reached the goal of logging 423 miles?which comes out to just under nine miles per member, per week.
But Pihl said every team was successful if it achieved the goal of more exercise and a healthier diet.
?Mainly, the idea is get people out there being active? she said. ?If they hadn?t been active at all, and the team only walks 20 miles a week, that?s 20 more miles than they had been. There?s no way they?d win, but they are getting that benefit.?
Team captains e-mail their report of mileage and quantity of fruits and vegetables to Pihl each Monday. The results for Marion County, as well as the 100 other Kansas counties that offer the program, are posted on the Web at walkkansas.org.
Pihl emphasizes that Walk Kansas is not a competitive event?at least officially. But many participants do take pride in the numbers.
?Sometimes when they e-mail their mileage in they?ll say something like, ?Oh, we?re trying to do better this week, we want to be first place,?? Pihl said. ?That?s good, because it means they?re getting out there and walking more if they?re wanting to win?all though it?s definitely not a competition.?
That said, the Tuff Toma?hawks, a team of four Peabody-Burns students and two adults, were pretty pleased that they led this year?s effort with a total of 1,454.5 miles?the equivalent of about 3.5 trips across the state.
?We wanted to win it,? said team captain Christian Gard, a student at Peabody-Burns Junior High. He and his two junior-high teammates used their track-and-field workouts at school to help accumulate the mileage.
Pihl said she believes the team concept, as well as setting a tangible goal, help make the Walk Kansas program successful.
?I do think it?s the teamwork,? she said. ?You don?t want to fail your teammates if you don?t walk a lot that week.
?And I think the goal of getting across Kansas helps. When I get the mileage (for the week) a team will say, ?Yea, we made it across Kansas early this year.? They?re excited because they made that goal.
?It?s a good motivator.?
This is the fourth year Walk Kansas has challenge participants to keep track of their intake of fruits and vegetables in addition to logging miles.
?It used to be that (nutrionists would) say try to get at least five servings a day, but now they?re saying get five to nine because of there so many health benefits to it,? Pihl said.
Keeping track of those servings does seem to increase the consciousness of a good diet among program participants, she added.
?I?ve noticed that the teams at the end off Walk Kansas are eating more fruits and vegetables at the end (of the eight weeks) than they did at the start,? Pihl said.
?By keeping track, some of them are realizing, ?I?m not eating as many as I should.??
The team that consumed the most fruits and vegetables during the program was Life is Good, with a total of 1,137 servings. As impressive as the total is, that still equates to less than 3.4 servings per day per team member.
But every journey begins with the first step, including the path to better health. Everyone has room for improvement?and that includes the participation rate in Marion County, according to Pihl.
?I would love to have 50 teams participate,? she said. ?I don?t know if that?s me needing to get out and promote it more, or having a challenge for teams to get another team to sign up. But I?d love to see it grow.
?Each year we offer T-shirts for sale and it?s interesting to see the number of people with the Walk Kansas T-shirts on.?