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Are you up to the challenge?

Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge hopes to get participants outside

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September 2, 2014

By Mike Killeen

When Tanner Rayman looks around the campuses and areas surrounding the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University, he sees plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun.

"We have one of the most beautiful natural areas in the Midwest," said Rayman, a junior from Burnsville, Minnesota. "It was a major reason I came here, because of the Arboretum and having all that space. I think it's a huge thing that students should explore more."

If the first Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge meets its goal, students, faculty, staff and friends of CSB and SJU will be headed outdoors to do just that.

CSB and SJU are part of the 10-school challenge, which runs from Sept. 27 to Nov. 22. During the eight-week competition, participants — students, faculty, staff, alumnae/i, parents and friends of CSB and SJU — can self-report their outdoor activities through an interactive online platform. Individuals will set up a free account where they can report their outdoor activity, verified by uploading a photo of that activity.

Examples of outdoor activities that would count in the challenge include hiking, biking, paddling, fishing, skiing, wildlife watching, climbing, running and stewardship. Traditional team sports like football, baseball or soccer are not eligible, but throwing a football or shooting baskets informally outside would count. 

The school that logs the most outdoor activities at the end of the competition will win a prize package, including a scholarship for an outdoor program assistant, a custom gear library and an outdoor festival for both campuses. There will also be opportunities for individuals to win weekly prizes.

The challenge aims to reverse a drop in participation in outdoor activities among young Americans. Research shows young people spend 50 percent less time outdoors in natural settings than the generation that preceded them. More than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, and only 20 percent of young people live within a half-mile of a park or an open space.

For Rayman, that hits home a couple of ways. As a nursing major, he knows about the growing problem with obesity and related diseases like diabetes in society today.

"Seeing the obesity trend starting to increase in our society, it's really nice from a nursing standpoint of having that primary prevention and trying to stop it before it occurs, and getting people active so it doesn't build up over time."

He's also very passionate about the outdoors.

"He (Rayman) is really excited about the outdoors, and the relationship with the outdoors and the schools," said Jenny Kutter, department coordinator of Saint John's Outdoor University. "He's a nursing major, so he's pursuing something very different academically, but he has a great passion and skill for enjoying and connecting people to the outdoors."

Kutter said an SJU graduate who had participated in the Peer Resource Program (PRP) at CSB and SJU sent her a note with the call for applications for the challenge. She showed it to her colleagues and Rayman, who is her office assistant with Outdoor U.

"I was excited to give him the chance to take it on," Kutter said. "I thought it would be a really good fit for him for his interests and abilities, and a great opportunity to highlight our outdoor programs on a national platform."

For Rayman, it's all about getting people outside.

"We just want to start (people) on the road, get them outside one time and let them see how enjoyable it can be," Rayman said. "We want to give them very good events that will help spark interest in those activities, and just kind of get the ball rolling. Hopefully, that participation will increase as the challenge goes on."

Both Rayman and Kutter said the many outdoor programs already offered at CSB and SJU along with a strong alumnae/I network gives the schools a competitive edge in the challenge. "We both felt it was a perfect fit for our schools, especially for the programs we have here," Kutter said, noting the resources offered by the PRP, Outdoor Leadership Center and Saint John's Outdoor U.

Outdoor Nation will track the standings throughout the competition as CSB and SJU will battle against a couple of mega-schools (the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa) and schools from warmer climates (California State-Long Beach, University of Central Florida and Spelman College). The remaining schools competing include Michigan Tech University, Appalachian State University, George Mason University and James Madison University.

"I think we're trying to win this thing," Rayman said.