OAK HARBOR, WA -- Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s (NASWI) fitness center is encouraging sailors to get healthy and fit one step at a time. Since the center’s Walk it Off program began last summer, 27 participants have taken more than one million total steps, an amazing feat considering the program was created for those who are intimidated by a fitness facility.

“When it came to programming, we had been providing activities for people who already came to the gym,” says Carol Sele, NASWI fitness coordinator, who runs the program with the help of Naval Hospital Oak Harbor’s diabetes educator Pearl Depender and nutritionist Jaci Bouchard. “We needed to broaden our focus. There are hundreds of people within the population we serve who are too shy and much too intimidated to enter this building. We came to them and took that fear away.”

People of all sizes, ages and health levels joined the program, meeting twice a week at the base’s track, which is located away from the gym. Sele distributed pedometers and T-shirts with the saying “Exercise Your Options” to the 98 participants that started the program. Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation walking journals and local trail maps were also provided to participants.

The pedometers, journals and maps were intended as guidelines, references and inspiration to encourage more laps around the track, Sele says.

“I asked that they shoot for 50,000 steps per week, but that it wasn’t a contest, just a goal for all of us,” she says.

Participant Oliver Bronnbauer far exceeded 50,000 steps per week by walking more than one million total steps.

“I’d tried diets and pills, but I could never stick to a diet or workout regimen,” Bronnbauer says. “I was only 33 years old and got tired easily. I started out at 219 pounds. My goal was 188, [which is] within body fat standards for my [physical readiness test]. That weight motivated me.”

After Bronnbauer walked 200,000 steps, he picked up his pace and started jogging, then running.

After he began losing weight, Bronnbauer also improved his outlook on life and overall happiness. He is now training for the Whidbey Island Half Marathon on April 13.

Another participant, Elaine McNair, joined the program to help manage her diabetes. Through walking and Depender’s help, McNair lost five pounds, and her blood sugar levels decreased from the 400s to the 100s.

This winter, Navy Fitness professionals were forced to bring the program indoors due to the weather. However, the supportive team dynamic helped retain all of the program’s participants, despite the change of venue.

“I think it has opened up other exercise options for them, knowing that they are just as welcome in the gym and can participate,” Bouchard says.