Stair chase builds muscles, health, camaraderie among CU staff

With 16-flight competition, climbers celebrate wellness
By Staff

By Cathy Beuten

One, two, three, four . . . make it to the next floor!

Amanda Ulrey, Gabriela Pena and Cary Ihme

From left, Amanda Ulrey, Gabriela Pena and Cary Ihme get into the spirit of the Great Stair Chase at 1800 Grant St.

To test their endurance and prove their mettle, 34 University of Colorado system employees recently embarked on the Great Stair Chase. Competitors sprinted, jogged, walked or even moseyed from the first floor lobby to the eighth floor then back down again. There were 20 stairs per floor.

Five, six, seven, eight . . . whoa my legs don't feel so great!

The Office of the President held the inaugural stair chase May 13 to promote health and build camaraderie. Leonard Dinegar, senior vice president and chief of staff said the event was intended, "No. 1, to have some fun with staff." The stair chase gave employees at 1800 Grant St. an opportunity to do something healthy and enjoyable, he said, and to introduce the system's health promotion program manager, Risa Heywood.

"Everyone has something that they are working on health-wise, whether it's to exercise a little more, eat healthier or learn how to handle stress better," Heywood said. "Since we spend so much of our day at work, it's easier to make healthy choices when you know that your employer and your coworkers are supporting you."

Regent Steve Bosley, one of the founders of the Bolder Boulder, donated numbered bibs from the 10K race for stair chase participants.

At the halfway point – the "you-made-it-to-the-top" point – Dinegar and other volunteers doled out water and fresh, healthy . . . doughnuts?

"I like to ease people into wellness," Dinegar said. "I don't like to rip a Band-Aid off, but make sure they are comfortable. I admit it's not healthy, but it's a step in the right direction." Besides, he quipped, "They have to get up eight flights of stairs before they can get a doughnut."

Even those not undertaking the stair challenge got into the spirit of the event, cheering on participants as they bolted or waddled past (depending on the floor). Individual racers and relay team members rocked out to boom boxes, provided by a race volunteer, blaring everything from the Stones to Billy Joel, and rocked on to the applause, whoops and hollers from colleagues. All participants made it safely to the top and back down.

Winners of the challenge included:

  • 40 and older female: Michelle Malfatti, 2 minutes, 14 seconds
  • 40 and older male: David Temple, 1:34
  • Under 40 female: Katie Quintero, 1:49
  • Under 40 male: Rosen Georgiev, 1:42
  • Team relay: Amanda Ulrey, Nora Sandoval, Tracy Konen and Kari Abarca

In the weeks leading to the event, Heywood had encouraged employees to take the "stair challenge," which encouraged them to log the number of stairs climbed each day. Participants were challenged to do more by virtually "climbing" international landmarks, such as the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. Winner of the challenge was Erin Russell, who logged more than 1,000 flights of stairs.

"Events like the stair chase, and others that I have planned for the future, demonstrate loud and clear that the university cares about the health of its faculty and staff," Heywood said.

Post-race surveys note that because of the challenge and the chase, 73 percent of participants are taking the stairs more often. Participants and fans reported the event was a good motivator and that it built camaraderie and morale. Heywood says the stair chase will most certainly continue as an annual event.

"One-hundred percent of participants think we should hold the event again next year," she said.

What did participants like least? Comments included, "Losing to my coworkers," "the burn" and "aching muscles three days later."

The stair chase succeeded in mixing wellness in with festive fun and, importantly, Dinegar noted, "gave folks an opportunity to do something they may enjoy and can keep on doing."