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The Global Corporate Challenge at Rockefeller: 100 days around the world

by Alexandra MacWade, assistant editor

The annual workplace health event, a feature of the university’s wellness program, begins May 25 and takes participants on a virtual global journey.

This spring, several hundred Rockefeller faculty and staff members will embark on a competitive, virtual walking tour of the world. The group, which will be divided into teams and motivated to find the longest walking routes across campus and around the city, will be participating in this year’s Global Corporate Challenge, or GCC. Registration for the annual workplace health event is open through May 10, and the challenge begins May 25.

Last year, 300,000 people from 185 countries took part in the challenge, which was founded by an Olympic medalist and an advertising executive as a way to combat what they saw as an increasingly sedentary society. Out of the 63 universities that competed last year, Rockefeller placed 14th. This spring will mark Rockefeller’s sixth time competing in the GCC, and enrollment has grown nearly every year.

A 100-day journey around the world

GCC participants form seven-member teams, each with a captain whose job is to keep everyone motivated. For 100 days, team members use GCC-supplied pedometers or their own fitness trackers to count their steps. Participants log or sync their steps daily using GCC’s website or app, and as the team’s collective steps are converted into distances, their progress is plotted onto a virtual map of the world. By the end of last year’s challenge, which began virtually in Tokyo, Rockefeller teams together took more than 381 million steps, the equivalent of traveling 151,000 miles or six times around the globe.

Kiley Kula, a human resources generalist who helps run the program at Rockefeller, says that interest in the GCC continues to grow, with campus rivalries and camaraderie adding to the appeal. “There’s the global competition among all the companies,” she says, “but there are also certain labs and departments that go up against each other, year after year.”

The one to beat

For the last four years, Craig Hunter, an animal technician, has come in first place at Rockefeller for the most steps taken by an individual. He accumulated over 9 million steps during last year’s challenge, 3 million above Rockefeller’s second-place participant, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

“Craig must walk in his sleep,” jokes George Smith, a clerk in the mailroom, who is competing for the sixth year in a row. Although Mr. Smith has won a GCC medal for his performance, he hasn’t been able to surpass Mr. Hunter. Still, he finds the competition irresistible, and the program has been an easy way to add fitness to his daily routine.

As for Mr. Hunter, he begins most days at 5 a.m., running 10 miles beginning in Upper Manhattan along the East River to Wards Island, across the Triborough Bridge into Queens, and back again. It’s not unusual for his pedometer to record nearly 90,000 steps by the end of the day. But while Mr. Hunter, who has been a runner nearly his whole life, might inspire friendly competition in others, his focus is on having fun. “I try to enjoy it, and I perform much better if I don’t view it as a contest,” he says.

But the challenge is inspiring even for those who don’t hope to ever top Mr. Hunter’s 90,000-step days. Stephanie Phillips, a veterinary technician supervisor and captain of Mr. Hunter’s GCC team last year, describes the GCC as “a huge, friendly adventure,” and says that participating in it has increased her teammates’ fitness levels and brought her colleagues closer together.

Tastes from the trail

As an additional perk of GCC participation, HR and Restaurant Associates host kickoff and finish line parties that feature samplings of regional menu items from the starting and end points of the virtual walking tour. At last year’s “Tastes from the Trail” finish line party, GCC participants enjoyed food from the Netherlands, with gingersnap cookies and Dutch apple pie served alongside healthier options. Many party attendees allowed themselves to indulge in a few of these tasty desserts, as they had just spent the last 100 days collectively burning over 15 million calories.

For more information and to sign up for the Global Corporate Challenge, call x7716 or email Timothy Blanchfield.