Fit to Be Tried: The 2014 IB Get Fit Challenge

Forget New Year’s resolutions. A couple of years ago, we introduced a midyear program known as the Fittest Executive Challenge, which has morphed into what we now call the Get Fit Challenge.

The common thread among many of this year’s Get Fit contestants is they want to redevelop the “fitness ethic” they once had, before busy schedules or child rearing (or both) got in the way. They remember the euphoria of endorphin release, and they want to once again make exercise and good nutrition part of their weekly routine.

Meanwhile, many organizations believe there is a correlation between fit employees and overall production, and note that healthy employees
can help manage medical insurance costs. Some organizations remain skeptical, while others keep an open mind and are eager to put those assumptions to the test. In the following pages, we present the fitness goals of 10 individual contestants (five men and five women) and 10 corporate teams, and a bit of advice from fitness trainers on how still-sedentary business professionals can get moving.

Winners will be recognized Oct. 22 at the annual IB Expo & Conference.

On your mark, get set, go! — Joe Vanden Plas

The Women

Sally Greenwood, data architect, TDS Telecom

Sally Greenwood is blessed with good genetics. Although she admits she’s overweight, she has none of the health issues of her contemporaries. But the Wisconsin Dells native acknowledges she’s hit an important time window; if she takes action now, she’ll avoid health problems down the road. Greenwood’s TDS team, comprised of competitive swimmers, runners, and cyclists, is a source of inspiration. “I want to have their energy!” she exclaimed.

Jamie Hinman, quality improvement specialist, Dean Health System

In your 20s, you think you’re invincible, notes Jamie Hinman. After having a son, she realized she’d better stick around for a while. Now, as a divorced single mom, she’ll need to find some “me” time so she can develop better habits. A former wellness specialist, she knows what to do, but applying that knowledge isn’t easy. To make her fitness journey enjoyable, she favors Zumba for her cardio workout.

Becky Hubing, corporate digital marketing manager, Great Wolf Lodge

When Becky Hubing took her health assessment, trainers remarked that she had the core of an athlete. But the former high school jock has struggled with her weight, at one time losing 126 pounds on Weight Watchers before gaining most of it back. With two very active young sons, she’d like to regain lost energy with the help of a strenuous morning cardio workout and smarter eating choices.

LaShana Miller, business services consultant, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development

LaShana Miller has a list of fitness goals: take off 80 pounds, reduce her BMI to a healthy level, and gain strength. Mostly, she wants fitness to become part of her daily routine. Motivated by family health issues past (an aunt who died of obesity-related health problems) and present (an overweight son who needs an inspirational role model), she’s getting busy with a healthier diet and regular exercise.

Lannia Stenz, executive director, Gilda’s Club of Madison

Having been active in fits and starts, Lannia Stenz acknowledges that consistency has eluded her. She’s certainly tough enough to stay with her fitness regimen, having danced on her wedding day with a broken foot she thought was only sprained. But after losing her mother to pancreatic cancer, and knowing obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are cancer risk factors, she’s now out of her comfort zone with Tae Bo Basic and TurboFire.



The Men

Brett Christensen, director of youth and family ministry, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church

Brett Christensen wasn’t preordained to be sedentary; it just happened. For nine years, he’s taken joy in his church work. But as Christensen’s fitness level waned, he gained 50 pounds and went from an “Energizer Bunny” who played with his young children to someone who can’t keep up with his active adult children. Now, with an injured shoulder, he’s working with a trainer, taking walks with his wife, and counting calories with My Fitness Pal.

Jon Emerick, VP of sales and marketing, Celerity Staffing Solutions

Putting out fires is one of Jon Emerick’s passions — not around the office but as a firefighter. Sure, he’d like to lose some weight and improve his diet, but he really wants to upgrade his conditioning to handle the physical demands of his volunteer job. He didn’t realize how demanding the work was until he did it, so he’s employing various routines learned in body-power classes and personal training sessions to literally and figuratively put out the fire.

Randy Gunter, partner-creative director, The Gunter Agency

Randy Gunter admits that winning Get Fit isn’t mission critical. What is critical is making the fitness process part of his  regular routine. That’s how he will define success, not by shedding pounds or running a marathon. The former college baseball player recently lost a friend who died of a hereditary heart condition, so staying healthy has taken on added importance. He’s using circuit training to give him the physical energy his creative industry requires.

Kevin Peterson, president, Peterson Technology Group

A fitness life is a terrible thing to waste, and Kevin Peterson’s commitment to fitness has diminished. He once played basketball two to three times per week and biked whenever possible, but the demands of running an information technology consulting company cut into his exercise regimen, and now he wants his active lifestyle back. Of course, the biggest struggle is finding the time, but the many benefits are enough to keep him focused on the fitness bottom line.

Brock James Ryan, president-CEO, AVID Risk Solutions

Brock James Ryan’s motivation for getting fit unfolded before his eyes. A former Division III college football All-American at UW-La Crosse, Ryan had stopped working out and saw his weight increase to 342 pounds. He’s watched his parents struggle with health issues like diabetes and stroke, and he was no longer able to take part in some family activities. Yet he’s back in the game, and his competitive spirit resurfaces during workouts at Hybrid Athletic Club.



The Teams

Team Drake
Lynette Peck, Kim Starr, Ryan Tiffany, and Melissa Ripp
Drake & Co. Staffing Specialists

For Drake & Co., there’s a bit of a curiosity factor involved in joining Get Fit. The company has an interest in seeing whether better fitness will indeed help make its staff more productive. Having established a wellness program years ago, it might have found the answer sooner, but the recession forced the staffing company to focus on other priorities.

Before the recession hit, the company’s wellness initiatives included paid time for working out (before or after work), encouraging an outdoor walk before or after lunch, and complimentary yoga classes (taught by an employee who also happened to be a yoga instructor). With that falling by the wayside, and employees becoming more deskbound, the Get Fit Challenge sounded like just the “spice” Drake needed to re-engage.

Marketing Coordinator Melissa Ripp noted that several calorie-laden restaurants are within walking distance — a Panera Bread is less than 20 steps from Drake’s door, if employees take the elevator — and so the company has taken steps to equip its kitchen for healthier meal preparation. The new salad spinner and blender for morning smoothies are combined with wagers about who can stay away from Panera the longest (good luck with that) and other fun ways to encourage not only the Get Fit team, but the entire staff.

Team members have separate fitness routines, but they are trying to bond and hold each other accountable in other ways. Perhaps that means competing in a 5K race this summer, but it definitely means good-natured ribbing that doesn’t lapse into skewering.

Team Fleet Feet
Matthew Reller, Curtis Hall, Matt Anderson, and Taylor Key
Fleet Feet Sports Madison

As a fitness business, Fleet Feet Sports Madison is determined to practice what it preaches. Management encourages healthy eating and participation in races, and offers health club discounts.

Still, some of the company’s Get Fit team members aren’t in the fitness or conditioning place they want to be. Matthew Reller, the newest staff member and a novice runner, is a case in point. He was admittedly “comfortably sedentary” for much of his life, until his wife, Amanda, had a stillborn son.

At the time, Reller weighed 360 pounds, and the tragic event forced the couple to take stock. In their grief, they made a vow to do everything possible to prolong their time together and be a better example for their future child. (Blessedly, little Ruth has come along to help fill the void.)

Matt Anderson, Reller’s boss at Fleet Feet Sports, noted that programs like Get Fit reflect the company’s core values. So do internal training programs like No Boundaries, in which employees are encouraged to go beyond any self-imposed fitness limits. Reller, who has benefited from No Boundaries, joined the Get Fit team to jump-start what had become a stagnant fitness effort.

For the others, it’s about not settling. Since most team members are active, Anderson believes improved diets are the key to reaching another level. “You can fall into the habit of, ‘If I run, I can eat whatever I want,’” he said. “Well, that’s not entirely true. You still have to eat the right things and take in the right number of calories.”

Team ISG
Josh Meester, Jen Brydges, Brendon DeRouin, and Nick Krey
Insurance Services Group

It was a long winter for all of us, especially the fitness fanatics at Insurance Services Group. After taking part in the Madison Half Marathon in November, three of the four team members, who happen to be endurance athletes, were champing at the bit for warmer weather to get here.

Team member Jennifer Brydges says Get Fit helped provide the impetus to get motivated for a spring and summer of competitive races and, yes, to strive for a higher level of fitness. As she explains, just because her teammates are endurance athletes doesn’t mean they are in tip-top shape.

“We are endurance athletes, but that does not mean we are thin,” she stated. “People get the wrong impression about that. We definitely are not in the shape we would like to be. We all could stand to lose an extra few pounds here and there.”

Needless to say, that involves monitoring the food they consume, another fitness task that occasionally fell by the wayside this winter, but they do have strength in numbers. Even though they aren’t officially in the contest, other office mates have joined the team in hallway exercises. One-minute planks, wall sits, and cracking jokes are good ways to bond and enhance peer accountability.

“Our goal is always to challenge each other and to get out there and do something, whether it’s walking, running, hiking, or participating in a half marathon or a half Ironman,” Brydges said. “We have that culture of wanting to be active and getting outside.”

Team Kollath
Mike Kollath, Aimee Kent, Katrina Sweeney, and Danielle Trace
Kollath CPA

Partner and CEO Mike Kollath wants his Kollath CPA staff to be as physically active as he is, or at least share his passion for physical activity. Kollath’s entry into the Get Fit contest is therefore an exercise in employee bonding, much like the company’s participation in the Zoo Run Run and other community events.

Office Manager Danielle Trace is the one who gets to plan such staff camaraderie, and it was her idea to enter Get Fit. When she brought the idea to Kollath, it didn’t take much convincing for him to sign off. “We’re always looking for ways to bond in the office, and we would love to do it in a healthy way,” Trace stated.

Kollath CPA doesn’t simply want its four Get Fit team members to participate in the challenge, but the rest of its 12-person Madison staff as well. They meet weekly to discuss where everyone is at with their personal goals, and the company has set aside time each week to take part in physical activity as a group.

The company’s office togetherness is not always wellness-related. Kollath CPA sponsors an office bracket challenge during March Madness, and employees are not only encouraged to attend client events, but often show up at such events as a team.

The Get Fit Challenge is no different. In truth, it’s not only the Get Fit entrants that the company has to worry about. “We have four members on the team,” Trace notes, “but we’re trying to make it more about the entire office working together.”

Team Kunkel
Marcy Holtz, Jason Knockel, Kim Kunkel, and Abby Zahorik
Kunkel & Associates

Wellness programs need constant care and feeding to remain fresh and relevant. To add some spice to its program, Kunkel & Associates likes to draw on the competitive spirit of its employees with the help of various wellness-related competitions, including Get Fit.

One lucky associate gets to claim a traveling trophy that’s said to be the envy of the office, but the real health benefits derive from a process in which they work as a team, share knowledge, and hold one another accountable. Wisconsin Branch Manager Abby Zahorik notes the company’s wellness committee is focused on education, prevention, and the reduction of chronic disease. Because adopting healthier, fitter lifestyles requires company support, Kunkel relies on the help of internal nurses and health coaches.

This promotes self-management skills for improved health, but the company also tries to head off trouble by providing wholesome alternatives like a healthy Wednesday lunch leading into Thanksgiving weekend and a cookbook filled with healthy recipes from employees and their family members. The latter is available for purchase, and proceeds go to the American Heart Association.

Team Kunkel is comprised of two members from the corporate office in Dubuque, Iowa, and two from the Madison office. Zahorik made the team’s intention to win Get Fit very clear, but that’s not trash talk — just a statement of confidence in company culture. “Our founder had the philosophy of working hard, respecting one another, and having fun along the way,” she explained. “We believe healthy employees are happy, productive employees, and that stems from our culture.”



Team PJ
Tara Conger, Ben Schwarz, and Lisa Siegle
Palmer Johnson Power Systems

Palmer Johnson Power Systems is another example of a company whose approach to wellness starts at the top and filters down. CEO Craig Parsons is a triathlete, but it’s Tara Conger’s job to keep the program fresh.

Conger, VP of human resources, notes that “PJ” has moved to self-funding its health insurance, which provides ample incentive to control costs. But in recent years, it has also experienced three deaths in the company family, providing more reasons to ramp up a standards-based wellness program that has grown to 10 annual “campaigns.”

One of its approaches is PJ Power Points, a rewards program that recognizes employees for outstanding job performance (i.e., going the extra mile). The Power Points are chips that come in denominations of five and 10, and employees who accumulate chips can cash them in for prizes and benefits. In addition to having an awesome sales month, employees can earn points by participating in a health risk assessment.

As Conger explained, the forthcoming October 2014 HRA results will be used to determine employees’ health insurance premium levels for 2015. Rewards are granted for good health habits and smoking cessation, and Palmer Johnson will roll out a health management program for four chronic conditions: asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

“We’ve learned the hard way in the past year and a half with three unexpected employee losses,” Conger noted. “For a small company, that’s unusual. We’ve always been focused on wellness, and we want to take it to the next level.”

Team Reinhart
Joseph Shumow, Nathan Wautier, Justin Oeth, and Lucas Roe
Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren

According to Nathan Wautier, Reinhart entered a team in the Get Fit Challenge to build camaraderie, but it sounds like the firm’s commercial real estate group, the unit the team members belong to, already has that in droves.

The office is just small enough that such a challenge is a constant topic of conversation, and while team members are “on their own” with respect to their fitness routines, they have their own unique ways of applying peer pressure.

“There’s definitely a competitiveness, and we’ve been exchanging emails in regard to workouts we have been doing,” Wautier said. “It’s really just good-natured banter for the amount of effort on diet and workouts, as well as praising or criticizing others for the lack thereof, or trying to portray their yoga exercise as less than it is.”

Before readers assume this team could use some estrogen, they should note that there are family motivations. Three of the team members are husbands and fathers with young children whose sleeping habits aren’t exactly consistent, especially between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. That leads to a fair amount of caffeine at odd hours, interrupted sleep patterns, and putting exercise on the back burner.

“It’s been running us down, and this is a way to collectively change that,” Wautier says.

None of the team members have a weight problem, but they are trying to eat better. Now when they lunch at their favorite Mexican restaurant, they’re more likely to order taco salad than a bulky burrito.

Team Employer Group
Luke Anderson, Eric Lowry, Angie Heim, and Marcus Neumaier
The Employer Group

It’s campaign season, and few companies have engaged in more recent fitness campaigns than The Employer Group. In addition to entering a team in Get Fit, the company is engaged in no fewer than six fitness-wellness campaigns this calendar year, according to President and CEO Angie Heim.

Heim led the way in 2012 with her own participation in what was then called the IB Fittest Executive Challenge. Not only has it inspired staff participation in various competitions, it has led to the establishment of a corporate wellness program consisting of lunch and learns, nutritional meals from Fit Fresh, healthy cooking demonstrations, and year-end cash incentives for meeting individual fitness goals.

For Heim, a mother of two young children, getting fit was something she could no longer put off, especially after she was classified as pre-diabetic. Her individual example seemed to inspire her 17-person workforce, which has taken the company fitness ethic to new heights.  

Like their boss, the Employer Group’s Get Fit team is pretty competitive and likes to get everyone involved. Staff participation in triathlons, marathons, and events like the Tough Mudder is common, and even though TEG’s wellness program is in its infancy, the injection of new challenges will keep it from going stale.

“There are fun things we can do to keep everyone motivated,” Heim says.

There are also fundamental things TEG staffers are encouraged to do, like drink more water and get away from the desk. If an employee sits in front of his or her desk for one hour, he or she is expected to get up and walk for three minutes.

Team Three Pillars
Jeff Grady, Melissa Wagner, Michael Parsons, and Michael Batz
Three Pillars Technology Solutions

“Better Fitness For All,” “Pounds to the Ground,” and “Get Fit” are among the 2014 battle cries at Three Pillars. One might consider this all-out war on sedentary lifestyles, but for founder Jeff Grady, it’s a bow to reality.

Grady jokes that he hit the “benchmark” of age 60 last fall, and he recently became a grandfather, but for 20 years prior to that, he had been pushing the boundaries of middle age. “When I turned 40, I said that was the new middle age,” he recalled. “Then I hit 50, and that was the new middle age. Now that I’m 60, I’ve had to concede that maybe 60 is the new upper middle age.”

Grady might want to point out that like a fine wine, he gets better with age, for he has no intention of being a “rocking chair” grandfather to his little grandson. His teammates might rejoin, “as long as that wine is consumed in moderation,” but they have even sassier ways of holding one another accountable, including the Friday “weigh-in” and other moments of truth.

Actually, the entire office will be encouraged to track and mirror the progress of the Get Fit team while participating in an internal, company-wide fitness challenge established for 2014.

In Grady’s view, joining Get Fit is like a microcosm of an enterprise-wide project. It starts with setting clear goals and then measuring the results.

“What I find is that a lot of companies set goals, but they don’t clearly define them,” Grady stated, “and then they kind of forget about them after that. I thought if we did Get Fit, we could build in some of the things we do as an organization.”

Eric Schappe, Sarah Phillips, Mike Whaley, and Brady O’Brien

Mike Whaley is happy to explain what the Mediterranean diet does for a guy, but he’d rather focus on his hopes for the TURIS Systems Get Fit team.

The physically active Whaley took part in IB’s 2012 Fittest Executive Challenge, and he’s delighted to bring his relatively young office into a team fitness challenge. And when he says office, he means the entire office, not just the Get Fit team members. While only four employees will officially be measured, the company plans on sharing “challenge” menus with employees who are not in the team competition. While Whaley has yet to convince anyone on his staff to try his red meat-free diet, six staffers are heading over to Hybrid Fitness two noon hours each week for a 60-minute, boot camp-style exercise class.

The rewards go beyond potentially winning the Get Fit competition. Through the company’s insurance provider, Dean Health Plan, employees are rewarded for making everyday smart choices as part of the Healthy Living program. Based on individual goals, the program helps employees track activity, calories, servings, the resulting progress (or lack thereof) in weight management, and even case management for disease or acute illnesses.

TURIS is a technology company where people run the risk of spending too much time sitting in front of computer screens. So Whaley is always up for new and exciting ways to keep fitness a top-of-mind priority, such as the Fitbit activity tracker. Plus, Get Fit offers the company president a chance to see how his younger employees measure up.

“I work out on a pretty regular basis,” he noted. “They are always teasing me about that, so I thought, ‘Good, come and join me and see what it’s like.’”

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.