True Story

True Story: Virtual Hike

Our 3,100-Mile 'Hike' to Canada
URS Corp. Workers Compete in Virtual Trip Along Rockies' Crests

By Rick Weismiller
Photograph by Dan Sidor

EDITOR'S NOTE: Rick Weismiller is a civil engineer with URS Corp., which has about 45,000 employees in more than 30 countries and is headquartered in San Francisco. It provides engineering, construction and technical services for public agencies and private companies around the world. In Colorado, it has offices in Denver, Colorado Springs and Glenwood Springs.

The company I work for, URS Corp., one of the state's largest architectural, engineering and construction services firms, recently organized a friendly competition among staff members in our Denver Tech Center office to see which floor could be first to hike from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide Trail through the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains.

We did not literally do this, of course. Our fitness challenge was a "virtual trip" along the 3,100-mile trail. A colleague and I came up with the idea of a walking challenge to encourage nonrunners in the office to be more active. About 220 employees out of 500 ended up participating and after about nine weeks, the third floor pulled ahead of the other floors and reached Canada first.

We tracked the virtual trip using simple pedometers. We distributed eight pedometers to each of the floors, and these pedometers were shared within the floors. Everybody who wanted to participate had the chance to wear a pedometer for at least one of the nine weeks. We assumed an average length of 2.5 feet per step to track progress.

We kept the rules informal: Participants could wear the pedometers at the office and at home. They could share the devices with others on their floor during that week – but they couldn't give them to their marathon-running neighbor or strap them to a dog's collar while it played in the backyard all afternoon. This was on the honor system, of course.

At the end of the week, the total number of steps was recorded on a spreadsheet, and the pedometer was given to a new person on the floor. Results were e-mailed weekly, with a description of the portion of the trail we were virtually "hiking" through. We included interesting geologic, ecologic or historic features.

The American Heart Association recommends taking at least 10,000 steps each day to help maintain a healthy lifestyle. Most office workers fall woefully short of that, but we don't know how short if we don't keep track with a pedometer. Heart disease is this country's No. 1 killer.

Walking a little bit each day – whether all at once or in small doses throughout the day – will strengthen your heart and reduce your chances of heart disease.

In the end, our participants averaged about 9,000 steps per day – pretty close to the recommended 10,000! We hope the competition made participants aware of how active (or inactive) they were. In general, the people who did really well were those who worked in the field or the mailroom, had small kids at home or actively chose to exercise outside of work. I think many people realized being active takes effort, but that effort is usually worth it.

This friendly officewide competition required very little financial investment. It was the enthusiasm of the participants that kept the momentum going and made it fun for all involved.