Members of the West Genesee Central School District team gather for a photo prior to the Chase Corporate Challenge in Syracuse.
Good times keep rolling for West Genesee
as it looks to 7th Chase Corporate Challenge
Kristen Gipe and Gwen Walker have changed their fitness outlooks since joining West Genesee's Corporate Challenge team several years ago.
SYRACUSE, June 19, 2011 — When the West Genesee Central School District team heads to the starting line for the 29th running of the Chase Corporate Challenge Tuesday at Lake Onondaga Park, it will look a little different than in past years.
“This year we decided to purchase team shirts to wear in the race to show everyone how many of us from West Genesee are involved,” said company captain Theresa Garofalo. “Look for us, we’ll be in GOLD!”
The color is appropriate. The effort that the suburban Syracuse school district of approximately 5,000 students has made at the Chase Corporate Challenge in recent years has been golden.
The district, with a workforce of 825 employees, has won Syracuse’s Large School Division of the Scholastic Challenge the past two years. The rewards go beyond just the satisfaction of winning.
“Being the recipients of the Large School Division of the Scholastic Challenge Scholarship makes us proud that we have been the district with the largest percentage of employees involved in the event for the past two years,” said Garofalo. “Knowing that a night spent exercising and enjoying each other’s company has allowed us to give four West Genesee students each a $500 scholarship over the past two years is very rewarding for us."
The funds provided to the West Genesee are a donation from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, saluting school districts that put forth a positive message of health and wellness to their students by participating in the Corporate Challenge.
“This helps to motivate people to become involved in the event,” Garofalo added. “The West Genesee staff has a reputation of being united and doing what is best for our students. It is great to see that this doesn’t only apply when we are at work.”
On Tuesday, West Genesee will join a Corporate Challenge gathering approaching 7,000 participants from more than 250 Syracuse-area companies. It will be the sixth year West Genesee has taken part, and each year the team has gotten larger.
Much of the credit for that goes to Garofalo, who ran on West Genesee's first team in 2006, and became the company captain the following year.
"I always wanted to take part in the Corporate Challenge," she said. "I had come to watch friends run the event for many years and it always looked like so much fun. As soon as I found out that someone was organizing a team for West Genesee, I started encouraging my co-workers to get involved. The person who was captain the first year was unable to be the captain the next year, due to scheduling conflicts. I was more than happy to step into the role and keep the district involved in the event."
A little soggy but happy, members of the 2010 West Genesee team pose for a photo under their tent. Shortly after the photo was taken, the team ran in the race, with the women's squad finishing a surprising fourth.
She did that knowing that the position would involve some work.
"The first couple of years I put a lot of individual effort into getting people involved in the Corporate Challenge; letters were sent to each building to be placed in each staff member's mailbox, posters were hung around buildings, reminders were sent, every time I passed someone in the hallway I would ask if they were going to take part in the race," Garofalo said.
It wasn't too long, however, before all that began to change.
"Once the word started spreading of how much fun the event was, past participants became my recruiters," Garofalo said. "Participants would share their positive experiences of being involved in the event and by word of mouth we have increased our numbers. I now have a representative for each building who helps with distributing packets, collecting shirt orders, and hanging posters. I send out a survey in March to see who is thinking of being involved and then throughout the month of May and June I send out a few emails to the district’s staff members informing them of the event and reminding them to get involved."
The result not only has been growing teams, but teams that represent a range of positions in the district, all the way up to Superintendent Christopher Brown, who ran last year and is heading to the line again on Tuesday.
Along the way, West Genesee also has recorded some impressive results in addition to its two Scholastic Challenge victories. Last year, Garofalo combined with Theresa Mosey, Kelly Owens and Janine Corning to finish as the fourth fastest women's team in Syracuse in a total time of 1 hour, 43 minutes, 54 seconds. And therein lies a strange tale of "eating for success."
"I think we were all surprised and excited at the same time (about the high finish)," said Garofalo. "Due to the storms (that night) and the race being delayed a couple different times last year, we all had decided to start to enjoy the buffet of food we had at our tent. When it was announced that the race would go on, and we were a few subs and cookies into our meal, we weren’t expecting to have any great race performances. Apparently this worked out for us. Maybe this is a race strategy we should try every year!"
All of the team's top four female finishers are returning this year, Garofalo said, but a high finish isn't on her mind.
"I’m not sure how we will place," she said. "Every year we get new people involved in the event - such as our number one female last year - so it’s always a surprise to us about how we will place. To be completely honest, I don’t even mention our finishing place in my recruiting emails because I worry about our non-competitive runners/walkers being intimidated and losing interest in the event and I would never want that to happen."
Members of the West Genesee Corporate Challenge team share some sunny smiles before the 2009 race.
In fact, as a runner, Garofalo says convincing non-runners to take part was the biggest challenge she faced in building her teams through the years.
"Non-runners didn’t always believe me that the Corporate Challenge was a run/WALK event," she said. "I think they were nervous that they would be the only ones to walk the race, no matter what I would say to them. Once our walkers on the team started talking to others and people realized that I was telling the truth, more of our non-runners started to become involved."
That has paid dividends, not just in growing West Genesee's team, but in helping improve the fitness of its members.
"We have had so many people on our team who have used the Corporate Challenge as a motivational tool to get themselves in shape," Garofalo said. "A couple of my co-workers/friends took part in the race the second year, mainly because I think they wanted to support me and my effort to get people involved. They were so nervous about running the 3.5 miles and weren’t sure they would be able to do it, but with encouragement and perseverance they both completed the race. We had a huge cake waiting for them back at the team tent congratulating them on their success! Now 4 years later, those two individuals have completed two half marathons and have run in many local races. I am so proud of them!"
"I’ve always encouraged people to just come out and enjoy an evening with co-workers and celebrate the end of the school year!" Garofalo added. "I want the focus to remain on it being a fun-filled evening with co-workers."
And that is what it has become for West Genesee.
"We definitely enjoy our time at our team tent before and after the race," Garofalo said. "This gives us the opportunity to meet staff from other buildings and the opportunity to talk with co-workers for longer than the three minutes we have between classes. The West Genesee Teachers Association (our union) is very generous by supplying us with some of the food and drinks. Most people bring something to share. We have gone from having an 8x10 tent to a 20x30 tent - which still might not be big enough!"
Which is a great problem to have as the now gold-jerseyed team heads into its seventh year at the Chase Corporate Challenge in Syracuse.