Four members of the team Restless Legs, pedometers clipped to their waists, were walking around the parking lot of North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System's sleep disorders clinic in Great Neck about 2 p.m. Thursday.
They passed two others walking in the opposite direction, also sporting pedometers. "Walking to Paris?" yelled one to the Restless Legs quartet.
Similar scenes are occurring every day at more than 100 North Shore-LIJ sites. In February, the health system launched the Walk to Paris challenge for its 43,000 employees. The walk requires teams of 10 employees to walk 7.2 million steps -- the approximate distance from Long Island to Paris -- in three months. That's about 8,000 steps, or close to 4 miles a day, for each person. The teams that complete the challenge will be entered into a raffle to win a trip to Paris. North Shore-LIJ supplied each team member with a free pedometer worth $35.
The idea was to make it fun for employees, who often neglect their own health while caring for others, to get and stay fit, said Dr. Jacqueline Moline, vice president of population health. Keeping employees healthy is part of the national health care overhaul and a goal for the largest Long Island employer to embrace.
But Moline said she wasn't sure employees would feel the same. "To be honest, we didn't know how many people would want to do it. We thought maybe 5,000, or maybe 10,000." She was happily surprised when more than 15,000 signed up.
Although the possibility of winning a trip to Paris is a motivator, participants say the real benefit is the exercise.
Yvonne Hathorne, 57, a medical secretary at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, said she already feels more toned and has more energy. "I am excited for the change in my life," she said, as she hiked around the hospital courtyard Wednesday with Team L'Amour de Paris.
Teammate Alyssa Quinlan, 32, a physician assistant, is four months pregnant. She intends to walk throughout her pregnancy.
"I used to eat eggs and lots of cheese," she said. "Now it's oatmeal and lots of fruit."
Her team captain, Edgardo Romero, 34, a clerical coordinator, said the challenge, which includes health screenings, has been a wake-up call. His numbers were "alarming," he said. "This has become personal." He now walks more than 10,000 steps a day.
Many -- like both Johnson and Romero -- said their families have joined in. Alma Aspiras, 42, one of a team of nurse case managers at North Shore who call themselves The Expeditors, said her 9-year-old son is her cheerleader. Her 12-year-old, a Boy Scout, is working on his hiking merit badge because of the challenge. "I will continue with this," she said.