by Cori Hilsgen
The College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University recently won the first Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge contest Sept. 27-Nov. 22. The schools won by involving many area people, not just students, in doing and reporting a variety of healthy physical activities.
The contest’s goal was to reverse young peoples’ participation levels in outdoor activities and allow participants to report their outdoor activities online. It was sponsored by “Outdoor Nation” and “The North Face.”
Outdoor University department coordinator Jenny Kutter, who participated in the contest, said Outdoor Nation is an Outdoor Foundation national initiative that began in 2010. In the spring of 2014, Outdoor Nation put out a request for colleges and universities to submit applications to be chosen to compete in the challenge.
SJU student and Outdoor University office assistant Tanner Rayman drafted an application explaining why CSB/SJU had the community, resources and passion for the outdoors to make them eligible to compete for the National Outdoor Champion title. They were notified in May CSB and SJU had been selected to compete and spent the summer preparing.
According to Ashlie Gerdes,CSB media relations specialist, 10 schools competed in the eight-week challenge. Other schools included Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.; California State University-Long Beach; George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.; James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.; Michigan Technological University in Houghton; Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.; University of Central Florida in Orlando; University of Iowa in Iowa City; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Points were awarded by the number of entries – 10 points per entry – and up to five entries per day, per person. Each activity needed to be at least 30 minutes. Entrants were required to include a photo or video of the persons involved in the activity and a description of the activity.
Anybody, anywhere in the world could sign up to participate. When first signing up, participants chose what school they were competing for and what their affiliation to the school was, such as student, faculty/staff, alumni or community member.
More than 2,000 people from CSB/SJU participated in the contest and logged more than 162,000 activity points. They recorded more than 20,000 hours of outdoor activity during eight weeks.
Kutter said more than 1,000 participants were students, but they also had a strong showing from faculty and staff, alumni and local community members as well.
“The challenge was not just for the students, but to also see who could inspire their communities to get outside and active, and we did that in spades,” Kutter said.
SJU sophomore Pearce Jensen from Hutchinson tied with three other people individually. He logged more than 2,800 points with activities such as hiking, biking, rock climbing, tree climbing and more. Jensen is eligible to be named the “Outsider of the Year,” who will be “outfitted from head to toe” by The North Face and will have a chance to complete an internship with the Outdoor Foundation.
Kutter said participants on the CSB/SJU team logged nearly 3.5 times more activities than Michigan Tech University which placed second with more than 48,000 activity points.
She explained what CSB/SJU, a small school in central Minnesota, did so differently from what all the other schools who competed did.
“We were fired up from the very beginning,” Kutter said. “We were able to get 1,000 people signed up to participate before the competition began on Sept. 27, so we had a big advantage to start out and by the end of the competition about 25 percent of the total participants in the nation were from CSB/SJU. About 25 percent of our student body signed up to participate.”
She said being selected for the competition offered a chance to prove something that many connected to the colleges and area already knew.
“The outdoors, our recreation for learning, for stewardship, for spirituality, is an integral part of the lives of the people in this community,” Kutter said. “People submitted activities mostly from their daily lives, doing the outdoor activities they love to do every day. The outdoors is very much a part of who we are. Add that to a very connected community that is always eager to rally behind some friendly competition and you produce a win like we just had this fall.”
She said the top activities entered in the contest were walking, running, hiking, biking and gardening.
For their efforts the colleges won a gear package valued at $10,000 which includes sleeping bags, tents, backpacks and other outdoor gear. They also won a school-wide celebration activity valued at $2,500, although the details of the event have not yet been finalized.