Activating an Award-Winning Fitness Challenge
Virtual fitness classes helped Lindsay Young cope with the early days of COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
Before her day of work at Durham University started, she’d get up early, log on, and exercise with friends from her Crossfit gym.
As that pandemic year wore on, Young, who is Alumni and Supporter Engagement Manager at the English university, considered how she could bring the positive experience she had to others.
“I was thinking about our Durham community and how it wasn’t just me who was locked down—it was our whole community,” she says. “We were going back into lockdown in January 2021, so I thought: what could mitigate some of the isolation and loneliness and bring us all together?”
Durham launched the Feisty 50 challenge: a 50-day fitness challenge to kick off the new year. Via email and social media, Young would announce two challenges each week: a fitness challenge on Mondays and an outdoor activity on Thursdays. Participants (alumni, staff, and university community members) would log their scores via a Microsoft form and Young posted a leaderboard on social media each week.
There were no prizes, and “it wasn't a competition, it was really about participation. But people are competitive, and they like to see their names on the Instagram leaderboard,” she says.
Young worked with a Durham-based strength and conditioning coach to design the workouts, which had to be simple, require no equipment, and be as doable for a young recent graduate as an 80-year-old alumnus. (The first workout: in seven minutes, complete as many reps as possible of five push-ups, 10 sit-ups, and 15 squats.)
The Feisty 50 drew 544 participants, making it the second largest alumni event in Durham history. And of them, 40% hadn’t engaged before in alumni activities. Participants logged on from 22 countries, and formed teams with names like Fast & Furious, the Sloths, and Cheeky Ken’s. One team was a group of alumni who’d played hockey at Durham together in the 1980s. On the mobile fitness app Strava, participants logged 27,800+ kilometers (17,200 miles).
“There was a bit of novelty to it, along with the fact that we've never done anything like this before. We've never asked [alumni] to do squats in their kitchen! It was a novel ask and it came at just the right time,” says Young.
Beyond that, it was easy to participate, and timed just as people were starting their work on New Year’s resolutions for wellness. The 50-day length of the challenge wasn’t chosen just for the sake of fun alliteration: it’s about how long it takes for new habits to form, Young pointed out.
The project—done with no extra resources, beyond staff time—won a 2022 Grand Gold Circle of Excellence Award for alumni relations pivot.
About the author(s)
Meredith Barnett is the Managing Editor at CASE.
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