By Dawn Marks Staff Writer for The Daily Oklahoman
More than 400 people are ready to run toward a more fit Oklahoma Christian University.
As part of an overall push on the campus toward health and fitness, the university will enter a team of more than 400 students, faculty and employees next weekend in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.
Neil Arter, dean of students, said the university started sending teams to the marathon three years ago. He attributes the enthusiasm to a "good peer pressure” that is working its way across campus.
Peer pressure Library director Tamie Willis said she fell victim to that pressure when co-worker Kerrie Cunningham talked her into running in the April 27 marathon. She's taking part in a relay team in the 10K position.
"She encouraged me to become a part of the relay, and I tried hard to get out of it. She wouldn't let me,” Willis said. "The relay gave me accountability. I can't back out.”
Willis, 52, said she decided last summer to change her health habits. Having a fitness center and support at the university has helped.
"I knew that OC was supportive of that initiative,” she said. "I've always felt that it's an environment that cares so much about the person as a whole.”
To encourage marathon participation, the university is paying about half the cost for each runner. Also, participants can find workout plans on the university's Web site.
Healthy habit Darci Thompson, director of admissions, who has helped with recruiting for the marathon, said organizers were hoping for 300 people this year but were glad to see the number balloon to over 400. About half of the runners who ran for OC last year are running again, she said.
"Really, the part I love about it is encouraging the people who don't think they can,” Thompson said.
Freshman Mark Brown, 19, will be among those running a full marathon this year. Brown said that when he was a junior in high school, he was overweight but started eating right and exercising. He lost 70 pounds and ran his first marathon in October.
"I think people are becoming more aware of their health,” Brown said.
Arter said university President Mike O'Neal has stressed that one of the greatest gifts the university can give to its students before they graduate is an understanding of the value of health and fitness. Administrators have added fitness centers to residence halls and are studying the possibility of giving employees incentives for taking care of their health.
They also hope to build a walking trail in the next couple of years, he said.