BOISE, Idaho — What happens when you combine elected officials and a fundraiser for Idaho's K-12 schools? The Steps for Schools walking challenge — and thousands of dollars in charitable donations.
Since 2015, the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health incentivizes legislators to get active by offering a donation based on how many steps they average during February.
"Blue Cross formed the foundation back in 2002 with the mission to give back to Idaho and address those root causes that impact health," foundation executive director Kendra Witt-Doyle said. "This is such a great challenge to engage the legislators, reach all corners across the state, and give back to the youth of Idaho."
The program has two options:
- Walk 5,000 steps a day to earn $500
- Walk 10,000 steps a day to earn $1,000
During the legislative session, lawmakers spend much of their time at the statehouse in committee meetings. Which Rep. Matthew Bundy, R — Mountain Home, says can turn into a lot of time stuck sitting at his desk.
Still, he's not one to shy away from a challenge and plans to hit the 10,000-step goal. What's Bundy's pro-tip for getting those steps in? Avoiding the elevator.
"You can get 3,000 to 5,000 steps just walking up and down the stairs," he said. "I'm on the ground level for my office...Then the committees are on the second and first floor, so you can get a lot of steps just walking in this building."
When taking the stairs doesn't cut it, Republican Sen. Jeff Agenbroad Nampa makes up for any low-step days by working out at the Nampa Recreation Center on the weekends.
"There are days that I may only end up with 6,500 steps or 7,000 steps and fall short of the goal. So, on Fridays, I check my step count for the week and plan my weekend to catch all those steps up," he said. "This last weekend, I had to average on Saturday and Sunday 15,000 steps."
In 2021, 64 participating officials walked a total of 17,404,448 steps, or almost eight miles. While sometimes it's hard to hit his daily goal, Agenbroad said Idaho's K-12 students are worth going the extra mile.
"We're helping the future of our community, which is the kids," he said.
This year, a record 70 elected officials are participating in the Steps for Schools challenge — including representatives from 33 of Idaho's 35 legislative districts.
Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, has participated in the Steps for Schools challenge all seven years. As a former teacher, Ward-Engelking said children need to adopt healthy habits at a young age.
"The reality is so many of our students now are involved with social media, and they're probably spending too much time sitting and not enough time exercising," she said. "I feel like it's important to set a good example for them."
Ward-Engleking also has found hurdles to reaching her daily goal. Specifically, she's found that spending long days on the ski hill doesn't contribute much to her 10,000-step count.
"What I found out is when you ski, you don't get very many steps. You glide. So, on the weekends I ski, I really have to work at it," Ward-Engelking said. "I'm going 'How did I not get that many steps? I've been skiing all day."
Witt-Doyle said that school districts could use the money raised through the steps campaign for any program or equipment that promotes physical activity. In 2021, Bundy donated his earnings to Mountain Home High School for outdoor P.E. equipment. This year, he plans to give the money to Marsing High School.
"This is just one little thing that I can do," Bundy said. "This gives us another avenue of service that we don't really think about, but it's been a tremendous amount of fun."
Over the last seven years, the Steps for Schools walking challenge has raised $167,000 for Idaho school districts. As more lawmakers join, Witt-Doyle hopes they will have all 105 legislators participate one day.
"We've seen the numbers uptick every year," she said. "It's amazing."