Idaho congressman lost 72 pounds walking. Now he wants everyone to do it

June 13, 2016

WASHINGTON ó At 55, Brian Whitlock is like millions of Americans, getting far too little exercise. But heís ready to do something about it, pledging to walk 2,963 miles in the next 12 to 15 months.

"I joke that my wife wants me to get healthy, even if it kills me," said Whitlock, president of the Idaho Hospital Association in Boise. "Itís something new. I tend to get engrossed in my work, and 12 hours later itís time to go home and you forget to fit in exercise."

Whitlock is among the more than 300 people who signed up to join Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson on a virtual cross-country walk aimed at helping them get physically fit. Most plan to walk at least 5 miles, or roughly 10,000 steps each day, charting their progress on a website that will show them moving on a trail from the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., to the Idaho State Capitol in Boise.

Simpson officially kicked off his "Hike With Mike" challenge on Wednesday, declaring himself "ready as Iíll ever be" having lost 72 pounds since November 2014. He now weighs 203 pounds and is aiming to get down to 190.

"I did 50 miles this weekend," Simpson, 65, of Idaho Falls, said in an interview. "The most difficult part about it is finding the time to do it. Iím going to be in California and then on a plane all day Friday, so itís going to be tough for me to get my 10,000 steps. But Iíll get them in."

Whitlock, who lives in Meridian, said he bought a Garmin fitness tracker to monitor his steps, calling the device "a great motivational tool." And he said his strategy over the next year will be to wake up earlier.

"If I can get up 30 minutes earlier in the day and get some steps in and finish the day with steps, I think I can meet my goal," he said. "There are those of us out there that just need a little bit of motivation and sometimes that can be in the form of a challenge."

Malia Collins, 45, of Boise, said she signed up after seeing newspaper photographs of a trimmed-down Simpson last week. She said she hadnít seen the congressman in person since last year.

"The dramatic difference within that year was inspiring ó and the way he did it with walking," said Collins, who teaches English at the College of Western Idaho. "As soon as I signed up, I got an armband. And Iíve lined up hikes every day this week, so Iím starting today."

Collins said she hopes that accepting the fitness challenge will get her outside during the winter months, when sheís less inclined to exercise. And sheís making plans to pressure her parents to take up walking with her when she visits them in Hawaii this summer.

"My hope is that I can corral my dad into coming," Collins said. "And itís something I want to share with my kids, as well."

Corey Surber, 47, state advocacy director for Trinity Health, the national affiliate healthcare organization for the Boise-based Saint Alphonsus Health System, said she decided to join the challenge after losing 40 pounds when she started walking every evening as a way to deal with stress. Now she helps coordinate a weekly fitness walk/run in Boise that draws an average of 60 to 80 people every week, called Meet Me Monday.

"I really do believe in what weíre doing because itís worked for me," Surber said. "For me, personally, I donít enjoy going into a gym and sitting at a machine and looking at a wall or looking at a mirror. I want to be outside. I will never be a runner, but long-distance walking, I can do that."

She said she just bought herself a new pair of Nikes: "Iíve got my new shoes and I am ready to put some miles on them. Ö Iím going to do my best. My current average is 11,000 steps a day and hopefully I will increase that."

Simpson, a ninth-term congressman and former dentist, said heís telling those who sign up that the event is not a race, only a challenge to see whether people can complete the course. Some participants are teaming up with a partner so they can participate without walking the entire 2,963 miles.

Simpsonís plans will include an attempt to climb 11,815 feet to the top of Idahoís Castle Peak in late August, even though heís not sure he can make it.

"This is kind of a bucket list thing for me, and weíll see how it goes," he said. "It can be a dangerous climb unless youíre a sure-footed mountain goat, which Iím not."

Simpson joked that he has not yet disclosed his plans to other members of Congress.

"I havenít told my colleagues Iím going to climb Castle Peak," he said. "Theyíve had to helicopter a number of people off of that. There are some of my colleagues who probably want me to climb it."



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