CHAMPAIGN – Lynda Umbarger gets plenty of exercise on the job, running up and down three flights of stairs every day.
And she aims to log every one of those steps for Moon Walk this spring.
"It's healthy exercise," she says. "It's fun. It challenges you to get your heart rate up, and that's what it's all about."
Planning for Moon Walk, an annual communitywide fitness challenge, is well under way. Participants will begin registering next month to spend 10 weeks collectively walking enough steps to get to the moon and back.
Last year, Champaign County came in third in a three-community Moon Walk competition with Peoria and the Quad Cities, and Champaign County's Moon Walk organizer, Jamie Kleiss, is optimistic about a better showing this year.
"I think we've got a nice buzz out there, and we have such a focus on the community this year to bring in more people," she said. "I think we can take first."
A couple of changes should help this year, she says: This year's Moon Walk, which runs April 3 through June 12, will be 10 weeks – compared with last year's 12 weeks.
And the expectations are lower. Last year, each community was asked to collectively log enough steps to make two round trips to the moon, and this year, it will be one round trip, or 1,193,500,000 steps in all, said Kleiss, the health and wellness coordinator at the University of Illinois Extension.
The winning community will also be selected differently. Last year, the first community to log enough steps won. This year, the winning community will need to walk enough steps to reach the moon and back and have the highest average miles logged per participant, Kleiss said.
One reason Champaign County came in last in 2008, she said, was that it had fewer participants – in fact, one-fourth the number of people who took part in the Quad Cities.
"We changed things a bit to even the playing field," she added.
Another new feature this year will be the community walks being planned to spur more participation and showcase the best walking trails in the area.
Each Saturday throughout the 10 weeks of the competition, the organizers will sponsor a community walk somewhere in Champaign County, Kleiss said.
Moon Walk registration will begin Feb. 16 online at moonwalk.extension.uiuc.edu. That Web site will be updated with the current year's information soon, she said.
The cost is $5 for those 13 and older and $2 for kids age 12 and under, with those fees helping defray the cost of prizes awarded for winning teams. The first 50 children 12 and under to register will receive free pedometers.
A kickoff party with a moon show is planned for the evening of April 2 at the Parkland College Planetarium.
People are encouraged to register for Moon Walk as individuals or in teams, such as employer groups, church youth groups, scout troops, etc.
"This is a great thing for employers to promote and have their employees get active," Kleiss said.
Umbarger, a 60-something who says she likes to stay active, walked on the winning Champaign County team last year – an employer team that kept walking even after the employer, the Baker's Square restaurant in Champaign, closed.
Now the house director for the Delta Delta Delta sorority at the University of Illinois, Umbarger said she averages 22,000 to 28,000 steps a day by making frequent trips up and down the stairs on the job.
"That's where I get all my steps," she said.