by Jack Rubinger
Randy and Brooke are quite an item. The 63-year-old suburban Chicago real estate attorney and her miniature poodle walk outside pretty much every day as long as the weather cooperates.
In addition to being an active Hadassah leader in the Midwest, Randy is an avid walker who became even more keen on walking through Every Step Counts: Hadassah’s Walking Program.
“This is my quiet thinking time, relaxing away from work when Brooke and I see what’s blooming at different times of the year,” she said. “I’m on the computer and email all day long so I leave my phone home when we walk.”
When Hadassah announced Every Step Counts, it was an easy decision to sign up and purchase a Fitbit to help track steps. Walker Tracker, the company that helped custom design the program with Hadassah, also integrated a virtual map feature to help participants see their progress.
“I loved the maps going through Asia and Middle East,” she said. “This is a very well thought-out program. Very impressive. It worked seamlessly. I could see companies encouraging people in office settings to get moving.”
Randy was amazed at how many steps per day she managed and quickly moved from doing 2,000 steps per day to 12,000 steps per day.
“Pretty soon I was averaging 24,000 steps a day,” she said.
Randy set her own personal challenges and added both morning and early evening walks to her schedule.
The best thing about Every Step Counts?
“It made it even more fun to go walking every day,” she said.
That old cliche about taking things ‘one step at a time’ was shattered when more than 1,000 members of the Hadassah family walked 720 million steps (360,000 miles) on a virtual pilgrimage from New York to the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem — spanning a six-month period from April to September 2015. That’s 14 times around the earth.
Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA), founded in 1912, is committed to Jewish continuity and building a better world through medicine and healthcare, advocacy, and communities of women. The challenge timeframe was significant because it began right before Passover (on April 1) and ended with Sukkot (September 27), two of Judaism’s pilgrimage holidays.
Hadassah members nationwide geared up for the journey, each establishing a unique rhythm, schedule, route and team for companionship and conversation.
Pre-launch communications over a two-month period were driven by Hadassah’s 900 chapters, Facebook and the Hadassah website.
Hadassah leaders selected Walker Tracker from Portland, Oregon to develop a software platform and provide project management and technology expertise, creating a wellness program that wove in Jewish history, education and other themes for the Zionist organization.
Walking bridges technology, people, culture and change. Just like the great pilgrimages of history — seeking answers to questions, looking for personal freedom, united in a cause — the Hadassah community came together and grew even closer through social networking, sharing of weekly personalized walking stats, and comparisons of the progress for each region. The challenge was open to anyone, including Hadassah members and staff, associates, eMembers, and nonmembers.
Technology links friends, family and fitness
Participants followed the progress of their personal icon as it advanced along the map during the six-month challenge, next to all their friends. Pop-up educational milestones told participants where they were. “You’re in Baltimore, home of Henrietta Szold (the founder of Hadassah)!” “You’re now in Siberia! Here are tips for walking in harsh weather.”
Walker Tracker’s program can be accessed via any modern internet browser or from mobile devices and tablets. Most of the popular devices are supported, offering automatic updates of step data including: Apple Health, Moves, FitBit, Jawbone, BodyMedia, Fitlinxx Pebble, Withings, and Misfit.
People exercise in many ways, so the Walker Tracker platform allows participants to “Convert an Activity” by selecting their activity and entering the time spent. Yoga, wheelchair use, and swimming are a sample of the 40+ activities that can be converted into steps.
Walker Tracker and Hadassah created three different challenge levels — 3,000, 8,000 and 12,000 steps/day to accommodate people at different fitness levels. Overall, participants averaged 7,708 steps per day – equivalent to almost four miles. The field ranged from young to old, with 80% of the walkers between 45 and 75 years old.
Cathy Olswing: Desert Walker
Giant saguaro cacti dot Tucson’s Sabino Canyon— some of them more than 100 years old. These symbols of the Southwest grow slowly because there isn’t very much water in the desert. So, when you see the enormous ones, you can only imagine what they’ve been through to survive.
Fifty-eight-year-old Cathy Olswing walks among these desert survivors in the early morning before the scorching heat and sun make it almost unbearable to be outside.
Her dedication to walking motivates her to reach the upper portions of the canyon and she generally completes the 7.4 mile round-trip in just over two hours. And while she’s not striving for a land speed world record, she’s pretty hooked on walking and has lost a lot of weight over the years by walking with friends in the canyon.
As a regional president of Hadassah, Olswing is in a position to positively influence chapter members from all over the western United States. So, when Hadassah announced it was launching its Every Step Counts program, Olswing jumped on board. She quickly became a cheerleader, encouraging women from Montana to El Paso to get moving and to think about the many milestones and events that are a part of the Jewish tradition of survival and thriving through adversity.
The cultural/historical elements of Every Step Counts were co-designed by Hadassah leaders and Portland’s Walker Tracker.
“My friend Jill and I could see where each of us were on the map en route to Jerusalem, our final destination. It was really fun to jump on the message board and cheer folks who were swimming across an Alaska strait,” said Cathy. “Every Step Counts created an incentive to carve out the time to take a walk and see where we are going to go.”
“I’m motivated to keep going and keep the weight off even when I don’t always feel like doing it every day,” said Cathy. “I was walking six days a week and going to the gym, and doing circuit training and we could weave that into the Walker Tracker program, too.”
Opportunities to fundraise were incorporated to support heart health programming to many Hadassah communities across the country. In this case, all funds raised go to the US Initiative called Every Beat Counts: Hadassah’s Heart Health Program™. This support enables Hadassah to expand its educational and advocacy programs across the country. The goal? To enlighten and empower women to improve their heart health.
Participants wrote hundreds of messages to each other on challenge pages, congratulating complete strangers, and asking, “Who else is from Buffalo?” The online social interactions through the Walker Tracker portal contributed greatly to the program’s success.
– 65% of walkers often walked by themselves, but connected with others online
– 31% walked with someone in their households
– 63% said saw real positive change in lives because of the program
– 91% would do again
– The top five walkers logged over 2,000 miles each
Participants walked when time allowed — to work, after work, on the weekends, during the daytime. Some set schedules. Others kept it loose. Deep friendships were developed. The power of the community helped one woman lose 27 pounds, while another dropped 30 points in cholesterol. Others spoke of dramatic improvements in blood sugar. Instead of joining a gym, another chose this program and became a monthly donor to Hadassah instead.
Both non-competitive and non-judgmental, the program has succeeded in creating communities and conversations, fostering ongoing discussions about how we feel, who we’ve met, how we’ve changed.
Because there was such an outpouring of enthusiasm, Hadassah has signed on with Walker Tracker to do another worldwide virtual pilgrimage again in 2016.
About the partners:
Walker Tracker hosts private, activity-based wellness challenges for organizations worldwide. Walker Tracker is now a leader in the wellness field, with clients that include Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, the US Military, non-profit organizations, colleges and universities, K-12 schools, and even entire communities. For more information, visit Walker Tracker or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hadassah is the largest Jewish women’s organization in the United States. With 330,000 members, associates and supporters Hadassah brings Jewish women together to effect change and advocate on critical issues such as medical care and research, women’s empowerment, and the security of Israel. Through the Hadassah Medical Organization’s two hospitals, the world-renowned trauma center and the leading research facility in Jerusalem, Hadassah supports the delivery of exemplary patient care to over a million people every year. HMO serves without regard to race, religion or nationality and earned a Nobel Peace Prize Nomination in 2005 for building “bridges to peace” through equality in medical treatment. For more information, visit Hadassah.