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‘Summertime’ Challenge Team Winners

Summertime was our four-week summer wellness challenge that aimed to empower WashU employees to incorporate movement into their daily lives while connecting with family and friends. Benefits-eligible employees were invited to participate as an individual or as part of a team to track their steps and participate in weekly social activities. Participants also had the opportunity to compete against themselves to achieve their personal best step count from one week to the next. Teams had the additional layer of friendly competition with a leaderboard that kept track of each team’s activity levels and weekly Thrive Thursday points. As the dust settled and the final step counts were tallied, reporting showed a two-way tie for first place on the team leaderboard: Skywalkers and Phantom SSSSST.

Team SkyWalkers
Team SkyWalkers from left to right: Jen Byers, Radiology | Vikas Dharnidharka, MD, MPH, Pediatrics | Kim Casey, Radiology | Kathy Kiefer, Pediatrics

Led by team captain and WashU Wellness Champion Jen Byers, team SkyWalkers has been around the block a time or two; they’ve been competing as a team in WashU wellness challenges for the past 10 years. With its roots in the Department of Pediatrics on the School of Medicine Campus, team SkyWalkers consists of Jen Byers, Kim Casey, Kathy Kiefer, and Vikas Dharnidharka, MD, MPH.

It all started with Jen and Vikas comparing step counts to spur each other on during a previous challenge, Tread the Med challenge. With Vikas’s encouragement, Jen started team SkyWalkers (yes, the inspiration came from Star Wars – Vikas is a fan), with Kathy and Vikas as founding members. Kim joined the team a few years later. Though they may work in different departments now, they use the wellness challenges as an opportunity to reconnect with each other.

Kim & Jen work together to motivate each other and the team through emails and messaging. All four agree that the team feels like a family: there’s a friendly competition and enough rapport that they’re comfortable reaching out to check in with someone if they haven’t logged their activity for a few days. Jen likes to say she will bug her teammates about their steps, but Kathy was quick to jump in with anecdotes about what a top-notch leader Jen is. The team credits each other as self-sufficient active participants who all contribute to their high ranking. “Vikas knows that you have to prioritize your own health in order to help others,” said Jen Byers, explaining how his leadership set the tone and contributed to healthy workplace culture.

Do or do not, there is no try

SkyWalkers team motto

As a team, the SkyWalkers are very motivated to compete for the leaderboard top spot in every challenge. Their jobs help them get in plenty of steps throughout the workday, and they make use of the conversion chart to convert their preferred activities, including swimming, elliptical, & ping pong for Vikas, strength training for Jen, pilates & tennis for Kathy, and walking her dogs & doing yard work for Kim.

Working in patient care, they’ve seen firsthand the impact lifestyle can have on health outcomes. Kim has worked with wellness research studies that included walking meetings as part of the protocol. Multiple walking meetings each day are what first prompted her to sign up for the WashU wellness challenges. Kim & Jen are currently working on a study that demonstrates the impact anaerobic exercise has on the brain, and Vikas agrees that sometimes the brain works better after exercise.

Team SkyWalker ended the interview with a note of appreciation for the wellness resources WashU provides, and how these challenges help to manage stress. They’re looking forward to the next challenge and a rematch with Phantom SSSSST!

Team Phantom SSSSST
Team Phantom SSSSST from left to right: Isabelle Smith, OHIDS | Michael Sullivan, IM Business Office – Research | Maggie Sullivan, IM Business Office – Research | Christina Twist, Education Admissions | Carol Sullivan, IM Business Office – Research | Brian Sullivan, Medical Scientist Training Program

The other first-place team is Phantom SSSSST. If that sounds familiar, it’s because they are defending champions from the Spring into Motion challenge and were profiled during the Summertime Thrive Thursdays.

Phantom SSSSST consists of the Sullivan family: Brian and Carol, their daughters Maggie Sullivan and Christina Twist, son Michael, and his partner Isabelle Smith. They’re pictured above holding the prestigious golden shoe trophy.

This dynastic team wants to update its name a little for each new challenge to keep things fresh. The plan is to incorporate Star Wars movie titles, starting with Episode I, The Phantom Menace. Look for “Attack of the SSSSST” in the next challenge!

The summer heat made it more difficult to get together to walk outside after work or on the weekends. Christina took advantage of the activity conversion chart to track her morning swims and cycling, so she was able to get her steps in early in the day. Michael and Isabelle continued their running training, running early in the morning or later in the evening.  Maggie, Carol, and Brian did manage to get some walks in together, but it was definitely challenging.  They are looking forward to the fall and cooler days!

Speed up or slow down, but move out of the way.

Phantom SSSSST team motto

Summertime‘ marks the third wellness challenge win for team Sullivan. One of the driving forces behind their competition and endurance is how much they enjoy supporting each other’s physical wellness journey. Knowing that physical fitness is a marathon, not a sprint helps them understand that setting aside the time for exercise daily is important for physical and mental health. The wellness challenges are another motivating factor that keeps them engaged. Plus, they enjoy competing with each other!  

Phantom SSSSST credits their ability to work together as a team (and as a family) as the secret to their success. It’s the comradery that allows them to honor commitments to each other more and allows them to achieve more as a team than they would on their own. They feel these WashU wellness challenges actually strengthen their family bonds. 

Great work and congratulations to these dedicated high steppers!

Visit WashU’s Well-being Hub for more employee wellness resources.