USS BLUE RIDGE -- To promote fitness and foster competition and pride, the U.S. 7th Fleet command ship USS Blue Ridge Health Promotions Committee sponsored a relay race in late July covering the distance from Sydney to Brisbane, Australia. Teams of sailors run, walked and biked their way – virtually - across the Land Down Under.

“The goal of the competition is to reach 400 miles with your team, which is about the distance in nautical miles from Sydney to Brisbane,” said Cmdr. Christopher Quarles, Blue Ridge medical officer. “Participants can obtain their miles by running on the main deck, running on the treadmill or spinning on bicycles.”

Twenty-five teams of up to 10 Sailors made up the 255 racers participating in the competition. At the halfway point of the race, the groups had collectively logged more than 5,000 miles of walking, running and cycling.

Chief Journalist Michael Raney, Blue Ridge’s command fitness leader, said events like this promote competition and fitness up and down the chain of command.

“Competitions like this go hand-in-hand with the Navy’s new Culture of Fitness approach,” Raney said. “It sparks energy within the crew and fosters healthy competition between divisions, departments, officers, chiefs and blue shirts. It is getting everybody motivated to get out there and exercise, and that’s what it is all about. I am very pleased with the results.”

Quarles, who heads the Health Promotions Committee and came up with the race idea, also created a running mileage formula based on a sailor’s run time for the most recent Physical Readiness Test (PRT).

“We don’t have an accurate measurement of how many laps on the main deck equal a mile, so basing distance on PRT performance makes sense,” Raney said. “That way, we don’t have people running five miles and calling it 10 miles because it felt like 10. The formula is just a gauge. Everybody is on an honor system, and we hope that the participants don’t lose sight of the spirit of this contest.”

One Blue Ridge sailor who is participating in the race said the competition has influenced her and her shipmates to increase the amount of time they spend working out.

“The competition has definitely caused everybody to push themselves,” said Operations Specialist 3rd Class Stephani Wood, of Hernando Beach, Fla. “Usually when we work out, we only do a mile or mile and a half. But wanting to reach the 400-mile goal, everyone on the team kicked it up to running about six or seven miles a day.”

Once a team reaches the 400-mile mark, its captain is issued a raffle ticket. More miles logged by a team earns them more raffle tickets in the long run. When the competition wraps up, the team with the most mileage gets 10 extra tickets; second place will receive nine additional tickets and so on. A raffle will be held for various prizes.

Blue Ridge Commanding Officer Capt. J. Stephen Maynard will draw the winning ticket, and every member of the team holding that ticket will receive a $25 Navy Exchange gift certificate. Individual awards will be presented to the top two racers. The sailor with the highest mileage total for the month long competition will receive 96 hours of liberty. The runner-up will have the honor of using the executive officer’s parking space at the head of the pier.

Raney, a native of Rancho Cucamonga, CA, added that even though some teams have already reached the 400-mile goal, others were still pushing through to the finish line as the contest started to wind down.

“The competition within the ship is fierce,” Raney said. “Two officer teams finished before everybody else, and they did it within the first week. Since then, we have had teams clicking off the miles left and right, striving to hit that mark of 400 miles and beyond. The competition isn’t over until July 19th, so everybody is still pushing. This race is unreal.”