A Walker Tracker Christmas Story

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Parzybok house, not a creature was stirring, not even a kitty cat; The hiking socks were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that pedometers soon would be there!

Ever wonder how it all started?  Well, I’ve enlisted some help to tell our tale.  Meet Laura Moulton, partner of Walker Tracker CTO & Founder, Ben Parzybok, who has been so gracious as to recount.

“Not too many people know the story of how Walker Tracker came to be, but I think it’s a good one.

Many years ago, Ben’s brother Ezra stuffed each of our Christmas stockings with a pedometer. These were cheap, rattly pedometers that did not record steps very acccurately, but we all gamely wore them on our belts anyway. Since our extended family began competing for the highest step counts, and since we were in different parts of the country, Ben decided to write the code for a website where people could enter their steps, along with commentary about their experience. Word of his website spread, and more family and friends began to participate. In no time, there was a robust walking community of several thousand, entering their steps and encouraging each other along the way. This was during a period of time when Ben worked a regular day job, (generally as a web designer for different corporations), and maintained the Walker Tracker project at night and on weekends. He was also writing novels and being a very hands-on dad to our 2 children at the same time, so it was a lot to juggle.

Around 2010, Ben began to explore ways to make Walker Tracker a revenue-generating company, instead of just a side project. His timing was perfect – many corporations had begun to look for wellness programs for their employees, and the walking program Walker Tracker offered was exactly what they were looking for. Ben took the risk and went full-time with Walker Tracker, and the company has been growing and thriving ever since. I’m so impressed with the caliber of people who have joined over the years – they are a stellar, dedicated team that has become its own kind of family. At home, with our own family, the little kids who played at Ben’s feet while he built the code for Walker Tracker are now teenagers who live for the annual white elephant gift exchange at the company holiday party. We’re grateful to Ben for his creative brain, for his supportive team that makes all the work happen, and for the companies who rely on Walker Tracker to help their own employees thrive and be successful.”

Ben with son Cohen, daughter Sylvie and Laura, our narrator.

Our program admins know best – Interview with Health Solutions

Walker Tracker programs are most successful when they are backed by an excellent admin. Our stellar admins are continuously challenging their group and actively communicating to their group engaged. One of these wellness champs is admin Dawn Yengich from Health Solutions, a behavioral health facility. We sent Dawn a few questions and of course she came back with excellent advice on how to start and structure a program, come up with incentives and keep your team moving. Read our interview with Dawn below.


WT: Health Solutions (Formerly Spanish Peaks) had its first Challenge with us in early 2015. How did participants respond to the new program and did you find it easy to get started when you first started working with us?

DY: Our staff was VERY excited to begin the competition. We gave them 2 weeks to enroll themselves in the program. At that time we had 50% participation. Blanca (Program Manager) and Chris (Business Development) were my contacts. They made it very easy to work with. They are easy to get a hold of and responded to my emails at all hours of the day.

Beginning the Walker Tracker program changed our office dynamics. With several facilities peppered across the city, many employees had never met. Once they were on a team together, they were emailing each other and some travelled from one facility to the next to walk with their teammates during lunch. Execs were taking their team on walk meetings so they could get their steps in.


WT: Why did you decide to start a walking program?

DY: We work for a behavioral health facility. Our clinicians talk to their clients about the importance of a healthy lifestyle. We came to the realization that we needed to lead by example and get ourselves healthy, too!


WT: What has been the most difficult part?

DY: The most difficult part was moving from our first competition, where employees got to choose their teams, to randomized teams. People were fit to be tied!! But after the first 2 days, people calmed down and decided they liked it better. People got to meet someone new and lower movement levels were encouraged by higher movement levels to get more steps. It was fantastic!


WT: How about the easiest and most fun part?

DY: The easiest part is that if you are wearing a Bluetooth device, you really don’t have to do much to participate. It’s done for you! You can spend your time actually moving instead of sitting at your computer. You can follow the competition on the app on your phone and contribute to the newsfeed and gift points to your friends while you are walking!!


WT: You and your participants use a variety of pedometers. Some use wireless devices and some use the manual entry style. How do these work for you?

DY: Of course, I like the easy and low maintenance of the Bluetooth devices. It’s foolproof and accurate. Some use their phones as a pedometer but you can’t take the phone into the shower like a Fitbit or Jawbone bracelet. They’re missing a couple hundred steps in there!!


WT: Your ongoing program has had great results. Users are engaged and keep plugging away at the challenge until the end date. What tools do you use to keep participants engaged?

DY: I ask my program manager for suggestions on how to change the competitions. Not only do we use a new map every time, but we randomize our teams, on some competitions we only allow for steps, in others we allow for activities to be included too. Changing the competitions keeps it fresh. I also change the way incentives are given. Some competitions the 1st team to pass a milestone gets a gift, other competitions I have a drawing for a gift from those that reached their goal for a week straight. My program manager is a great consultant to help figure out new ways to layout the program.


WT: Any advice you would give to people just starting a walking program?

DY: Do it now. You will reap so many benefits! Not only will your employees health improve; you will create a more cohesive team environment. Your employees will never want to leave when they are given the benefit of a wellness program!


WT: Do you have a favorite feature on Walker Tracker or favorite part about working with Walker Tracker? 

DY: I really like the graphs and charts that are available. I can pull statistics at any given time to add to a managerial report and show how much our movement is improving and how many are participating. With the statistics it is easy to justify the cost of the program, which is very minimal considering what you get.


WT: You’re running a Tour of Africa challenge right now. What are the benefits of these map competitions? Do your walkers have a favorite so far?

DY: I liked the European Backpack map the best so far. Walker Tracker assigned our teams some very clever names. Some team members decided they would research how to say hello in each of the countries we walked through. Whenever they walked through a new country, the newsfeed would be filled with a foreign language. It was lots of fun!


WT: You use a “prize vault” to incentivize walkers. Tell us a little more about this system and what incentives have you found your participants value most?

DY: I’ve added a question at sign up that asks employees what they’d like to see in the prize vault and I pack my treasure chest with items that are requested most. I’ve learned that discount stores like Ross or TJ Maxx have VERY REASONABLE fitness equipment. I am able to stock my vault with items $10 and under. Participants earn an item from the prize vault once they reach a new level. They are emailed a congratulations email with a spreadsheet of items available to choose from. Our employees really like exercise balls, essential oil diffusers, spa eye masks, water bottles, kettle bells, company logo t-shirts, and weighted hula hoops. They also like to choose gift cards. I offer $10 or $15 gift cards to local restaurants and stores: Sports Authority, grocery store, Amazon, Bass Pro Shop, Target, Wal-Mart, etc. It’s just $10 but people get so excited because they know they earned it!




New trackers: Water & Fruits & Veggies

As an admin, if you want to add a new type of tracker to your program – you can now do so in Admin > Customize Program > Control Custom Metrics.

We have two widgets there that can be instantly turned on in a program.

Water Tracking

We worked under the old adage that you should drink eight eight-ounce of water a day (8×8). Excess water is not necessarily good for you, so our water tracker maxes out at eight. We also want to emphasize that while the 8×8 rule is a handy memory device, it’s worth reading up on how much water you really need per day.  The water tracker is meant as a means to quantify something that has until now been subjective. For further reading on water intake: Mayo ClinicAuthorityNutrition

Fruit & Veggies Tracking

As a whole, Americans eat far fewer servings of fruits and vegetables than the CDC recommends. The science behind this is clear: Eating ample fruits and vegetables correlates to better heart health, lower cancer risk, decreased risk of stroke, better eyesight, lower blood pressure, and many other positives. Read more about it at Harvard’s School of Public Health. Our tracker, like the water tracker, is there to help you quantify something that has remained subjective. We want to make tracking quick and easy — unlike full-blown food trackers you use once and then forget about. A tool that allows you a moment of reflection about your diet, and an opportunity to track these dietary habits over time.


For program admins who are running challenges around these trackers – there is a great download tool that allows you to specify thresholds and pull data over date ranges.



May Featured Admin: Kerry Davis from PAXmwr

The Navy at Patuxent River is one of our first customers and they have been using the site for years.  It wouldn’t be the success that it is without the leadership and enthusiasm of Kerry Davis.


1. Why did you want to start a walking program?

I was inspired at the ACSM Health/Fitness Summit in 2008 (I can’t remember the year for sure!). They featured several programs which were geared toward just getting people MOVING, even if it is just adding steps to their daily lives.

I knew that there were a lot of very busy people in my community, who did not have the time to get away from work for a lunchtime workout. I also knew there were a lot of people who would be intimidated to come to the gym or to take a group fitness class. So, I wanted to create a program that would cater to both of these populations, where they could do all of the walking on their own time and in a comfortable location to them.


 2. What has been the most difficult part? How did you overcome that?

The most difficult part has been deciding what prizes to give! I have many repeat participants, so I like to have different prizes for them, and it is hard to know how many prizes to have on hand at the beginning of the program.


3. How about the most successful and fun part?

It is so exciting to talk to the participants who have really made a change in their lives because of programs like this. One lady was very competitive, and she told me that she would walk in place at her desk while checking e-mails so that she could keep getting steps! Others have told me about decreasing medications, and weight loss! Small changes really can make a big difference in your life.


 4. Any advice you would give to people just starting a walking program?

Use the WalkerTracker website! The very first time that I used the website for a walking program, I had 325 participants. It was very overwhelming because I did not know how to use the website to collect the data. Ben contacted me because he saw how many people had just signed up for the website, and my programs have been MUCH easier to run since!


 5. Favorite part about Walker Tracker?

My favorite part is really the people in the background. Taylor and Ben and others have done an amazing job helping me set up the website to reach the goals that I have set for each program.

As far as the website itself goes, I like the step converter. I also like that the participants can choose their level of involvement. Some will get really into it and post pictures and comments, and others simply want to enter steps in each day.


6. Any other comments

My participants have really enjoyed the maps. We are getting ready to try the points system for the first time, so I look forward to that! Thank you so much for everything!

Admin of the Month – Aimee McCarthy

Behind every successful walking program is a superstar administrator.  This month I am happy to introduce the “Walker Tracker Administrator of the Month” to our blog.  This prestigious award is given to program admins that go above and beyond for the success of their walking program.

Below is an interview with Aimee McCarthy from Canon CITS.  She has been running an excellent Walker Tracker program and knows what it takes to keep her employees motivated and the challenges exciting.


1) What made you want to start a walking program?

Our employees sit at a desk all day, answering phone calls from customers, so there is little opportunity to move during the workday.  I wanted to implement a program that everyone could do, that wasn’t hard or complicated, and wasn’t intimidating, especially for employees who don’t currently exercise.  Walking is something “easy” to do and can be fit it at various times throughout the day, wherever you are.


2) What has been the biggest struggle?

The hardest part is probably keeping engagement up.  There are a group of people who sign up, but don’t ever log their steps and I don’t know if they are participating, but not getting online, or if they are just not using the pedometer at all.


3) The easiest/most successful part?

The site makes it easy to track and interact with other employees and that seems to be really enjoyable for participants.  I love that we can do challenge after challenge with this program.  Short-term goals seem to work best with our company wide challenges, and it’s nice to be working toward something new every few weeks or months.


4) What advice would you give to people just starting a walking program?

As with most wellness initiatives, communication and marketing will go a long way.  Market the program in various ways, through email, flyers, word of mouth, any way that works for your population.  Incentives are always a good draw to get people to participate.  I periodically send out reminder emails talking about the challenge, showing the leader board, and reminding people to enter their steps on the site, which I think helps to keep engagement up.


5) Favorite feature on Walker Tracker?

Being able to text my steps in.  The pedometers we bought don’t store data, so it makes it easy to text in your number and reset the pedometer at the end of the day.  I also like the social aspect of it.  It’s nice when participants post on the challenge board, but it’s not too much a part of the program for those who aren’t into social media.


6) Any other comments

We have enjoyed our time using Walker Tracker so far.  I was hoping this system would be easier to use than walking programs we’ve done in the past and it has been.  Reporting and tracking is very important and I like that I can do most of that right from the admin section of the website.  Taylor is always really quick to respond and will give marketing materials for our new challenges which I really appreciate.

US Embassy Walking Challenge

Sometimes a client truly delights us with their programs. Today, during our all program’s meeting, we were all tickled by the competition currently running between the US Embassy in Katmandu and the US Embassy in Warsaw. The two embassies are competing against each other in a walk from Poland to Tibet. As an embassy brat myself—my stepfather served in Mexico, in Colombia, and in Croatia—I love the idea of embassy friends and colleagues competing and collaborating in a walking challenge. Go Warsaw! Go Katmandu! You think we can get other Embassies to pile on, and do a world-wide challenge?


Health Gadgets and Goodies at Consumer Electronics Show

Can tech help health? Yes! There’s a groundswell of gadgets and goodies coming to the market, showing how quickly this segment is developing. I particularly love the companies focused on helping kids develop healthy habits, though I think I prefer my own childhood running after balls and jumping rope and whatnot, over playing dance dance revolution in the classroom. Perhaps it’s a matter of generational taste…

Go here for the low down:


You asked for better weekly stats

Our programing elves have been hard at work… We’re always improving the Walker Tracker program, and we always love to hear ways that we can make Walker Tracker better for you. Over the last year, many of our clients have requested regular status emails sent to their walkers to both increase engagement in their company wellness initiative, and to provide real-time feedback on walking performance.

We thought this was a great idea!

Based on your input, we’ve built a  (rather handsome) weekly status email (see screen shot below). The email shows your walkers what they’ve done in the last week—total steps taken, miles covered, and calories burned, plus it gives an update on how they’re doing in the competition and how they’re performing compared to their friends. We also have an area for health and wellness tips, and we’re collaborating with a certified fitness coach to help us build great, relevant, and useful content, every week. Employees can easily turn this off in their settings (each email contains instructions how), or you can turn it off program-wide in your Admin Features area.

Thanks for all your great feedback, and keep the requests coming. This is your tool, and we want to hear from you.

Spouses walk free in our Mediterranean Walking Challenge

Today we officially announced a promotion we’re really excited about.

An 8 week corporate/organization walking challenge around the perimeter of the Mediterranean — what’s going to make it especially great, though, is that we’re inviting the spouses of employee programs to walk for free. This goes straight to the heart of  one of our oft-said mottoes as we make walking and activity challenges a deeply social experience:

You’re as fit as your friends

Spouses walk free – a Mediterranean walking challenge!


How Subtle Changes (and a little patience) Can Bring Dramatic Results

When I first started working for Walker Tracker, I have to admit, I thought it was a little silly that people actually used the site as a means to motivate themselves to walk more. Then I started to do research. I realized that the use of corporate walking programs is huge these days. I had no idea.  Then it clicked. Just like people have different learning methods, they also have different exercise methods. Mine happens to be the solitary way, but there is nothing wrong with creating community to help motivate a more healthy and active lifestyle.

I had forgotten how scary and frustrating it can be while taking those first steps (yes, pun intended) towards getting active. Getting your body to do things it’s not used to doing is never easy. And there is nothing more frustrating than not seeing the results you want right away. It’s easy to forget that noticeable results take time. I think one reason a lot of people give up on attaining a more active way of life is because we live in a culture of immediate gratification. When pounds aren’t shed and fat isn’t lost fast enough for us, we just assume it’s not working.

I could make a laundry list of the health benefits of walking regularly. There’s been study after study documenting them. But I won’t insult your intelligence. If you want to know the benefits of walking (or of any means of exercise), I’m absolutely sure you can do a Google search and find that information yourself. I prefer a personal approach. Walker Tracker is by no means a diet site. We’re not here to help you lose weight. We’re here to help you stay active. So this is not a before and after story. Consider this a few motivational anecdotes from the life of your friendly Walker Track tech support guy.

Shortly after I started working at Walker Tracker, I received a text message from a good friend back home in Kansas. She had finally gone out and bought new pants, pants that fit. You see, a few months prior to my exodus from Lawrence, KS to Portland, OR, she had had a blood pressure scare. Her doctor told her she needed to lower her blood pressure and lose weight otherwise her health would continue to decline. She isn’t even 30 years old yet.

So she started to make changes. They were small at first, very subtle things like eating a couple more salads a week, walking to work, and mowing her yard. I recall at first how frustrated she was. More exertion made her more exhausted than she was at first. Then things started to change. The first thing she noticed was that she wasn’t quite so tired. After about four weeks, I began to notice her clothes were fitting her differently. She never really documented how much weight she lost. All she cared about was how she was actually feeling better than she had in years. About three weeks after I had left Lawrence, she posted pictures online of all the work she’d done in the yard of her new house. There was one of her cutting tree limbs with a chainsaw. I couldn’t believe how great she looked. Since I’d left her arms had gained some muscle tone, and she was practically swimming in her clothes.

Her results were absolutely noticeable to me, but my jaw still dropped when she told me how many inches she had lost of her waist when she finally went out to get new jeans. She had lost four whole inches in a matter of months. And to think if she had given up after a couple of weeks because she wasn’t noticing any difference, she would be exactly where she was four months ago.

Another friend of mine in Lawrence recently posted a split photo of himself online. One half was him two months prior, the other was a current photo of him. I wouldn’t say he lost weight (he wasn’t really overweight to begin with). But the muscle tone in the pictures was completely different. He just looked healthier in the more recent one. I asked him what he was doing to bring about such great changes. Two months ago he finally decided that he didn’t want to feel awful all the time. Apparently he has a wheat allergy, but wasn’t taking any steps to cut it out of his diet. So he started eating gluten free, drinking two liters of water every day, and practicing yoga regularly. He was saying the same thing my other Lawrence friend said: “I just feel better. I wasn’t even concerned about looking better. That’s just a bonus!”

I was inspired by my friends’ progress, so I decided to challenge myself as well. I already do quite a bit of walking and cycling, so I had to find a new activity with which to push myself. I chose yoga. I’m in the midst of my fourth week practicing. I won’t lie. I was completely frustrated at first – I still am, actually. I thought I was in fairly good health, but yoga forced me to realize how completely inflexible my muscles are. I assumed yoga would be less intense than taking on something like weight lifting, but boy, was I wrong! I was sore every day for the first two weeks. And I felt like I wasn’t improving at all.

It’s only been in the last week that I’ve started to notice positive differences. My body doesn’t hurt as much as it used to. My balance is improving, and I’m a bit more flexible than I was when I started. But the biggest change is in my presence, in the way I carry myself. Just last week a friend of mine told me I looked bigger. I immediately took offense, assuming she meant I looked like I had gained weight. Then she clarified: it’s not that I looked physically bigger, but that I looked as though I was taking up more space. After she told me this, I started to pay attention to the way I carry myself. Sure enough, I stand straighter with my shoulders pulled back instead of hunched forward. When I’m sitting, I notice that my spine stays straight rather than curling forward into a slouch as it used to. My difference in posture doesn’t feel any different to me yet, but I’m sure with a few more weeks of regular practice, I’ll feel all these changes in my body.

I’m glad my friends started sharing their stories. They inspired me to physically challenge myself again, rather than remain complacent in my current level of physical fitness. Hearing how other people have gone about getting and staying healthy is far more beneficial than reading about the supposed benefits of exercise. It’s too easy to forget that change, any change, takes time. With a little patience (or maybe a lot!) and some subtle lifestyle changes, anyone can start to feel better. We just can’t give up when things get hard!

I’d like to invite you to share your stories with us. Comment here. Tell us what’s worked for you, what hasn’t, how you cope with frustration, etc. We want to hear about your trials, your failures, your successes. Maybe your story will inspire someone else to make more positive changes!