Tupelo District sets strong 'Pace'


By Woody Woodrick

Advocate Editor

When the “competition” started, Tupelo trailed Starkville.


That didn’t sit well with some of the Tupelo team members, so they put in some extra work to take the lead — and they’ve kept it.


This wasn’t about high school football. It was a group of clergy doing their part in a friendly competition to improve their health. The “teams” are districts in the Mississippi Conference, and the competition pits the 11 districts against each other to see which can cover the most miles in the Amazing Pace.


“When it started, we were trying to catch Starkville,” said the Rev. Carl Grubbs, superintendent of the Tupelo District. “Andy Ray (senior pastor at Tupelo First United Methodist Church) got his five people to walk until 11 p.m. to catch Starkville.


“I’ve got some people who if we see another district coming up on us, you’ll immediately see our group go out and do more. They’re committed to finish this race, and the Tupelo District is going to be on top. The competition is good, but involved in it is the understanding that this is a win-win situation. They have fun, but they know they are healthier for doing it.”


The Amazing Pace is a wellness program for clients of the Mississippi Conference health insurance program. The plan calls for participants to become more active by taking 10,000 steps a day, encouraging participants to increase their steps incrementally until reaching the 10K goal.


In addition, their steps are centered on biblical journeys and distances, giving participants a mileage goal.


The program officially kicked off 10 weeks ago. In that time, an estimated 65 percent of those signed up have actively participated. In the world of wellness programs, 50 percent active participation is considered successful, said Lee Burdine, who administers the program.


The insurance program covers about 1,550 people, and 41 percent (533) signed up for Amazing Pace. Participants wear a pedometer that tracks how many steps they take each day. They then upload the information to a Web site that charts their progress.


“For any kind of wellness program, those are really high numbers. People have embraced it and are active. It’s all about learning to go from being inactive to active,” said Burdine of Columbus.


While the spirit of competition drives some participants, Grubbs said another group has contributed to his district leading its nearest competitor by 7,269 miles — retirees. Grubbs said the retirees of his district are more concerned with the health benefits.


Burdine attributed the success of the program to several factors. Participation is easy. All kinds of motion – walking, running, riding a bicycle, etc. – add steps to the pedometer. “You can get your steps in a variety of ways,” Burdine said. “You don’t have to go to a health club, although some of the greatest success stories are tied into YMCA or hospital health programs.”


Also, the program offers a variety of support mechanisms. Regular “rejuvenation station” conference calls have been held where Pacers discuss the program with one another and a nurse. About 60 people took part in the Aug. 21 call.


The devotional component is also important, Burdine said. “Some groups are using our material as part of their regular devotionals.”


The ultimate goal is improved health and lower insurance costs. “People are losing weight. People are going to their physician and seeing some medications adjusted,” Burdine said. “We’ve seen some great benefits already, and we’re only 10 weeks into it.”

Burdine said it will take a least a year to see some monetary savings for the conference, and those won’t be great right away. However, over time, better health should translate into fewer claims and greater savings.


Grubbs said he sees benefits in his clergy already. “It gives them more energy to do their jobs,” he said. “The pastors are more alert, have more energy and maybe get work done more quickly. Good health affects all of our lives.


“From a theological standpoint, the body is the temple of the soul, and God expects us to take care of ourselves. We don’t do it sometimes. Amazing Pace gives us an incentive to do better.”


Grubbs said he made a commitment to walk 10,000 steps per day. “I generally will average around 15,000 steps,” he said. “I can walk with anybody as along as they want to walk. My blood pressure was kind of easing up, but now it’s down in better range. My pulse rate is down. All that tells me it is well worth doing.”


In addition to the pedometers, participants can access kiosks in the district offices to measure blood pressure, body mass, pulse and weight.


It all combines to create a unique program that is attracting attention from other church and corporate groups.


“Nobody in the world is doing a program close to this,” Burdine said. “Some have a similar component, but this is really a ground-breaking program.


“It shows the forward thinking of Board of Medical Benefits and conference administrator David Stotts. They realized something had to be done, and they’ve taken the initiative.”



High mileage

Here are the mileage totals for each district recorded by Amazing Pace since May 15:

Tupelo             14,185

Starkville           9,616

West Jackson   9,463

Seashore          9,187

East Jackson    7,635

New Albany      7,373

Hattiesburg      6,847

Meridian           6,170

Brookhaven     6,137

Senatobia        5,960

Greenwood      5,175

Note: Figures are as of Aug. 30 and come from the Amazing Pace Web site.