The 10-week "race to the moon" by the 1,776 registered Champaign County "moon walkers" is about 60 percent over, and there's a lot of good news.
First, we're ahead of last year's pace. Last year, in the first year that Champaign County participated in the Moon Walk competition against Peoria and the Quad Cities, we managed a total of 320,204 miles. This year we're already well over 215,000 miles with almost four weeks remaining in the race – with the best walking weeks coming up.
Second, Champaign County's team is No. 1 in the competition so far – but barely. This year's winning team will be determined by the highest cumulative total per registered walker, not by total miles walked. And so far the Champaign County walkers are averaging 103.46 miles, a hair above Peoria's 101.2 miles and the Quad Cities' 94. But to win, the top team must also get all the way to the moon and back – about 477,000 miles – by June 12. The Champaign County team still hasn't finished the first leg of the trip.
"We just need our people who are regulars to log their miles," said Jamie Kleiss, the health and wellness program coordinator for the University of Illinois Extension in Champaign County. Extension is again sponsoring the Moon Walk program in Champaign County. "I'm very pleased with how well we've done so far. We just need to do more."
According to Kleiss, there are all kinds of good stories associated with this year's Moon Walk – more than 200 students at Unity West and Fisher elementary schools are participating in a friendly competition, an intergenerational group of seniors and children from Hope Meadows in Rantoul is piling up numbers, the Social Security Steppers team is not only walking but taking action to adopt a healthier lifestyle and the No. 1 team in Champaign County, the Wayward Wonders, is averaging an impressive 366 miles per walker over six weeks, or about 61 miles per walker per week.
"It's a wonderful experience," said 57-year-old Tim Jenvey, a University of Illinois employee who serves as co-captain of a seven-member team with his wife, Peggy, 56. "My wife had weight-loss surgery 3 1/2 years ago and without that we never would have been able to do this. She didn't have the mobility or the stamina. But now we're able to walk every day. It's a big part of our lifestyle."
Weather permitting, they try to walk about 5 miles every morning, during the lunch hour (both work on the UI campus but in different buildings) and again after work, at any number of sites, including Meadowbrook Park in Urbana, Homer Lake, Lake of the Woods or around their subdivision in Thomasboro.
"We have a lot of fun with this at work," Jenvey said. "People on different teams are always talking about where they've walked or comparing figures."
They each walked about 800 miles last year but Peggy is 100 miles up on Tim so far this year, already at about 600 miles walked.
And speaking of the UI campus, at 9 a.m. next Saturday I'll lead a 3.5-mile walk all around the beautifully blooming and virtually empty campus as part of the Moon Walk. We'll begin at the parking lot at the southwest corner of Goodwin and Springfield avenues in Urbana, head south and make a big loop around much of the UI property, highlighting many of its historical and architectural features and perhaps addressing some campus lore.
If it's anything like the waterlogged walk I led across Champaign-Urbana last summer, participants not only will be soaked with rain but drenched with wisdom, courtesy of other walkers who knew more about local architecture and history than I did. That's my hope for this year as well.
(As an aside, the long-range forecast for next Saturday is encouraging: partly cloudy and warm with only a 20 percent chance of rain.)
Our stroll through campus will take us past about 50 points of interest, including the Krannert Center, the Morrow Plots, Altgeld Hall, Smith Hall, the recently saved Mumford House, Harker Hall and the Assembly Hall, which will mark a major anniversary of sorts this month – the 50th anniversary of its groundbreaking.
We'll also take note of two other major campus events in May 1959 – a water fight that was broken up by a group of beefy Illini lettermen and a panty raid that was cut short by a power failure.
The walk should take a little more than an hour, so participants should expect to be done by 10:30 a.m. Bring a bottle of water if you think you'll need it, although there will be plenty of water fountains (and bathrooms) in campus buildings along the route.
The walk is free and open to everyone, except people from Peoria and the Quad Cities.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at kacich<@>news-gazette.com.