One team of walkers expected to be the only winners of an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris until their company's chief announced Thursday that three more groups would also be headed to the City of Light.
Dowling said that North Shore-LIJ's investment of more than $500,000 in the program was worthwhile because it spurred about 15,000 employees to get more exercise.
"The expense here is minimal compared to the benefits you get from something like this," he said. "If I have more people healthy, it costs me less money . . . this is health care reform in action in our own organization."
North Shore-LIJ's "Walk to Paris" program challenged teams of 10 employees to walk a combined total of 7.2 million steps over three months -- roughly the distance from New York to Paris.
Only one of the 914 successful squads was to win the five-day trip, to be selected at random at yesterday's ceremony at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. Then Dowling surprised his employees by adding three more teams.
"He said it felt, in the heat of the moment, like the right thing to do," said Allison Bunin, North Shore-LIJ's senior director of internal communications.
One beneficiary was Rosemarie Ennis, 59, who captained the Twinkle Toes team.
After Dowling picked her group, a breathless Ennis pulled out a cellphone to break the news to teammates and family.
"Hi honey -- hold on to your seat for this one," she told her husband. "I won the trip to Paris."
Most of Ennis's team came from North Shore-LIJ's corporate offices in Manhasset. She said her group consisted mainly of baby boomers, who had to work to reach their daily quota of about four miles. One of her team members completed the challenge soon after receiving open-heart surgery, she said.
Though the competition has ended, several people at the ceremony said they hadn't stopped walking.
"I'm still going. I passed Paris," said Odetta James, 37, who works at a North Shore-LIJ children's hospital in New Hyde Park. She said she's lost 30 pounds over the past three months.