Members of the Concourse Monitors stride through campus on their lunch break, driven to hit daily step goals as part of Ball State’s second annual On the Road with the Cardinals wellness challenge.

The six Ball State Recreation Services employees make up one of 90 (cleverly named) teams challenged during a 10-week period to each walk as many as 5,366,000 steps — the distance to Ball State’s away football games this season. The team was in second place among its competitors on this September day, but Concourse Monitors’ banter is even faster than their pace. Try to keep up:

“Last year, Tucker was running triathlons, so he carried our sad team,” said Ben Peak, assistant director of programs. “But …”

Jason Tucker, assistant director of informal recreation, interjects: “Adam had back trouble, and Jessica was in her second trimester.”

“No, third,” corrected Jessica Allardt, assistant director of Outdoor Pursuits. “And carrying a 10-pound baby boy, so I wasn’t much help.”

Laughter.

University employees Jessica Allardt and Ben Peak take part in On the Road With the Cardinals.

On the Road with the Cardinals isn’t the first fitness undertaking for Allardt (left) and Peak, who both have taken part in Walk Indiana. (Photo by Samantha Blankenship)

“And then one of our members had a kidney transplant during the competition, but even with that, a bad back and a pregnant lady, we still finished in the top 10 last year,” Tucker asserted as the team paraded along the gravel paths of Christy Woods.

“Hey, you’re forgetting another weak link,” Allardt winks. “Ben, how about you talk about that foot of yours?”

Laughter.

Peak: “We all decided to walk the Walk Indiana marathon together, and at about mile 6 …”

“No, it was later than that, like mile 18,” Tucker held.

“What?! No, it was near mile 10,” Allardt said.

“OK, let’s split the difference, say mile 13,” Peak announced. “I asked everyone to rest a minute because my foot was killing me. I ended up limping through the second half of the race, and it turned out I had a stress fracture.”

“It was one of your metatarsal bones, right?! He had to get around campus on one of those leg scooters for the next two months,” Allardt said.

“But this year,” Tucker said, shaking his fist in the air, “this year, there’s no stopping Concourse Monitors from first place. We’re second, by the way.”

Cheers and more laughter.

Inspiring a healthy, friendly workplace

As the crew heads back to BSU Recreation headquarters, they tap on pedometers, Apple Watches, Fitbits and other devices to check and log their steps alongside teams like Run-DSC, Knee Busta’s and Holy-Walk-a-Molies. Yes, they want to win the Athletics’ prize pack, traveling trophy and bragging rights. But beyond the swag, Peak said working with colleagues toward a common goal is the greatest reward.

“We’re better for it,” he said. “Getting out on lunchtime walks gets us talking about our families and passions, which has brought us closer together in life and work. We’ve felt less stressed, more connected and prouder of our accomplishments — both in and out of the office. We feel like family.”

Some teams in the 68-day competition that ends Nov. 8 are already family. Lois Largent, administrative coordinator for the Department of Finance and Insurance, and her husband, David, a computer science instructor, teamed up with two other couples to represent three departments in two colleges. The Odd Couples are in the noncompetitive category, with each member focused on achieving personal goals tracked in LifeWorks, an online employee-engagement wellness platform that Ball State uses.

“We do our own thing to meet daily steps, and the competition certainly makes me more aware of little ways to add steps to my day — taking the stairs here or even marching in place before bed to reach those final steps,” said Lois Largent, who has worked at Ball State for 11 years. “We are fortunate Ball State helps employees become more health-conscious and supports us in different ways. I feel valued more as an employee because of these types of programs.”

Challenge is accessible to all

The challenge, with competitive and noncompetitive categories and personalized goals, is accessible to all, regardless of activity level, said Rhonda Murr, director of health enhancement programs. A conversion chart helps those who swim or pedal, for instance, calculate those activities as “steps.”

Division of Strategic Communications employees take part in the On the Road With the Cardinals wellness challenge.

Kari Gayes (front left) and Kathy Weaver walk through Christy Woods with their colleagues from the Division of Strategic Communications, many of whom are taking part in On the Road with the Cardinals. (Photo by Domenic Centofanti)

Working Well, Ball State’s employee wellness office and organizer of the steps competition, offers weekly incentives for people to reach personal and team goals, including MVPs celebrated for advancing wellness or achieving fitness goals.

“The concept might seem silly, but it is truly transforming the lives of our colleagues and improving the overall well-being of campus,” Murr said. “There is something magical that happens when colleagues come together to support each other and work toward common goals.

“Work is about relationships, and these types of group activities get people out of their offices and talking to each other about more than work,” she continued. “That, in turn, creates a better working environment, which is crucial to productivity and job satisfaction.”

Shauna Turner of Technology Trekkers would agree. Before the competition, the office assistant in the Department of Technology said she once considered the walk to and from her car a workout. These days, with a goal of 9,000 daily steps, Turner walks the dogs before and after work and volunteers to courier documents across campus. And if she hasn’t met her goal by the time she crawls into bed, she’ll pause and hop from one foot to the other.

“Hey, it’s something,” she jokes.

The competition has prompted Turner to participate in other preventive health services through Working Well. The full-time Ball State employee of seven years has gone through the free health assessment, which includes nutrition counseling, osteoporosis screening, body mass index analysis and blood pressure and glucose screenings. She is enrolled in LiveWell’s Diabetes Prevention Program, or DPP, Workshop. The 16-week series was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to empower those at risk for Type 2 diabetes to lead healthy lives and prevent the disease.

“I’ve been feeling better, and it’s been a great thing to see our office get active and more concerned about our health,” said Turner. “The experience has encouraged me to expand my focus on health to other areas of my life. For instance, I track my food now and am always thinking about a healthy alternative, which feels and tastes — I must say — surprisingly good.”

A focus on athletics

The challenge is certainly focused on individual health goals and camaraderie within departments, but incentives also encourage interactions across campus. Carlos Garcia, team leader of Coffee & Grounds, pulled his co-workers in landscape services together with colleagues in Campus Dining, where his wife, Linda, is a food service supervisor.

“We are all about the extra points,” Peak said, on a group campus walk — earning him 2,000 extra steps. “Look at all these people walking together. You know someone is driving by, thinking, ‘I should get out there, too.’ ”

— Ben Peak,

Ball State Recreation Services

“I’ve worked at Ball State for 18 years, but this competition has encouraged me to get out and meet even more people in different offices,” said Carlos Garcia, landscape services supervisor. “We’re hoping to go to an athletic event as a team this year, too, to gain some extra points.”

That’s right, extra points.

The connection with football — walking the steps to football away games — is no coincidence. Ball State Athletics is a key supporter of Working Well initiatives and a health-focused campus, Murr said. As such, On the Road participants who attend any Ball State Athletics event can get up to 2,000 additional steps for the week.

“We have some amazing athletic teams, and we want to encourage faculty and staff to get out and support dedicated student-athletes who work hard to lead healthy lives,” Murr said. “And the more games and sports they attend, the better, but participants can only count one game each week. We also offer group campus walks for extra points. It’s been fun to see new faces out at games and whole offices walking with others around campus.”

Members of Concourse Monitors, who are in the most competitive of On the Road’s three categories, don’t need incentives to attend Ball State Athletic events or take lunchtime walks. The BSU Recreation staff has and always will enjoy supporting the Cardinals and getting out of the office, but members welcome the additional incentive.

“We are all about the extra points,” Peak said, on a group campus walk — earning him 2,000 extra steps. “Look at all these people walking together. You know someone is driving by, thinking, ‘I should get out there, too.’ ”

Director of Athletics Mark Sandy — not far behind Team Concourse on the group walk — said he is thrilled to see such a showing and proud to partner with Working Well in promoting a healthy, safe and happy campus. Supervising Ball State’s 19 Division I teams, Sandy said he feels the pull to “take care of any number of responsibilities” instead of exercising. But he commits himself to an elliptical at Jo Ann Gora Student Recreation and Wellness Center two or three times a week.

“We make time for the things we want to do, the things that are important to us, and taking care of ourselves should be at or near the top of that list,” said Sandy, whose staff created team Marky Mark’s Funky Bunch. “And it’s good for our kids and grandkids to see us active and to be active with them. Taking care of yourself is one of the best lessons, gifts we can pass down.”


Working Well: It’s about more than counting steps

On the Road with the Cardinals is one in a range of programs, online tools and resources Working Well offers for faculty and staff, including free smoking-cessation classes, individualized health coaching, Type 2 diabetes prevention and sessions such as “Struggling with Stress” and “Vital Vitamins and Minerals.”

The Wellness Council of Indiana recognized Ball State as a Five Star AchieveWELL organization, one of only 15 companies in the state that have earned the council’s highest level of recognition.

Last year, Ball State was one of 12 Indiana worksites to receive the American Heart Association’s Fit Friendly Platinum Achievement Award, given to employers that go above and beyond when it comes to employee health.