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Suzanne Timken and the Corporate Cup.

The qualifying rules- are simple enough: if you can walk a half mile or swim a single lap, you can make the team. All others are invited to get in the game by exercising their lungs with cheers for the nearly 15,000 amateur athletes on the court, in the pool, around the track, and at the starting line.

Miracles happen every September in Stark County, Ohio. Onlookers recall the 86-year-old man who loped across the finish of the three-mile race; the middle-aged nurse, frightened of the water, who received a standing ovation when she came in last in the swim relay; and members of a tug of war team who spent three months dragging 5,000-pound blocks around a parking lot as part of their training regimen. When the blocks became boring, they turned to trucks.

Now in its eighth year, Stark County's Community Corporate Cup competition, the country's largest amateur sports event, has served as a model for nearly 70 cities determined to "shape up" their residents. "It's unbelievable," says John Usmial, the coordinator of Cup activities and director of marketing and program development at the Canton Area YMCA. "I keep thinking we'll see a slowdown, but it just keeps growing,.. We've. had 22 new companies call since September wanting to get in next year's competition." If they sign on for the fun and games, the number of organizations that field teams will swell to 120, up from the original 48. Events have increased from 6 to 16 since 1984, and participation last year was up 33 percent over the previous year.

As successful and innovative as Cup competition is, its roots stretch back nearly 30 years to a near-tragedy that threatened to permanently sideline one of Canton's most active civic leaders, Suzanne Timken.

"I was about 24 years old at the time and had recently delivered our second baby," Suzanne recounts. "Because of the pregnancy, I hadn't ridden a horse in several months and was anxious to get back into the saddle. When my recuperation time was up, I was given permission to exercise our jumper. It was horrible; the horse ran away, threw me, and I broke my back. I remember telling the doctor in the hospital that I had to recover because, I wanted to have more children. He said, Well, then, you're going to have to really strengthen your lower back and your neck because you've sustained a lot of injury to both of them.' "

She took him at his word, and through exercise and hard work was able to restore her health. Today, she's grateful for the experience. "The accident turned out to be a gift," she says. "It got me firmly into exercise. I've never had a problem with my back since then, and I went on to have two more children. I also gained an understanding of the importance of fitness."

Suzanne's commitment to a healthful lifestyle earned her a slot on the advisory board of President Reagan's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in 1982. When the Canton newspaper announced her appointment, one of the first persons to call her was John Thompson, the young new physical director of the Canton YMCA. Thompson, an exercise physiologist, had a big dream but no budget to underwrite it. He enlisted Suzanne's help.

"He said he wanted to launch some kind of fitness competition that would involve the local corporations," says Suzanne, currently vice chairman of President Bush's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. "I told him that it was a great idea as long as the event wasn't directed to the elite athlete. I wanted it geared to people of all fitness levels-secretaries, midnight shift workers, the everyday Joe and Jane who may not otherwise be reached by the wellness movement."

The project began to take shape. Committees were formed, events were designed so anyone could compete, and a slogan was selected that summed up the spirit of the contest: "Fit or Unfit, Join Your Company Team." To make sure team members were fit for the fight, a training program was conducted three months before the first Cup competition. Hundreds of participants and their families turned out at the local football field for an exercise class led by the Timken-Thompson duo. Suddenly, the entire city of Canton was buying into the idea that fitness was looking better-in more ways than one. Local fitness facilities were loaded with new faces, pools were full, and jogging trails were packed as everyone settled down to the serious business of training.

When she wasn't leading exercises she was on recruiting missions to local companies, looking for likely corporate bodies. "I remember talking to my husband's secretary at the Timken Company," she says. "Margie had never done anything like this in her whole life, but I said, Margie, we need you on the Timken team.' Sure enough, she started jogging-first a quarter mile' then a half mile-and she ended up being in one of the relays."

The competition's theme, "We're All in This Together," extended to financing the event as well as fielding the teams. The philosophy was to not allow any one company to pick up the tab and not rely on public funds. Rather, the sponsorship was spread over a number of organizations. A spirit of community was generated when 12 sponsors, ranging from banks to corporations, agreed to share in the financial support of the program.

"Logically, a hospital should sponsor this kind of event, but we have three hospitals in town," Suzanne says. "When I called on the first hospital, the directors agreed that of course they would be a sponsor; in fact, they would underwrite the whole thing. I said, No, you don't understand. We're all in this together.' "

She and Thompson never doubted that the Cup would become an annual tradition. However, as convinced as they were of its success, they never suspected its spin-off benefits. What started as a city competition quickly expanded to a county event, and organizations began attaching a variety of wellness activities to the basic Cup contest. Doctors Hospital of Stark County hosted a free- picnic lunch, complete with a lecture on cholesterol and diet; Massillon Community Hospital offered a series on weight loss; Aultman Hospital designed a course on stress management; and Timken Mercy Medical Center sponsored a seminar on exercise. Suddenly, wellness was a year-round concern, and everyone was talking fitness.

"From the beginning, the purpose of the Cup has been to get people to evaluate their lifestyles and to make some positive changes," says John Usmial, who has overseen the project since its second year. "Kids see their parents competing and having fun rather than sitting on the couch watching TV. This sends a great message and provides good role models. The other key goals are to promote camaraderie among employees, and to boost community spirit."

The mission has been met and the goals realized, but no ceiling is seen on the success. Usmial agrees that even the best projects have their limits, but the Community Corporate Cup is far from reaching its potential.

"There are about 500,000 people in our county," he says. To really get into health and wellness and to really, affect the entire community, we should achieve the goal of 100 percent participation. Of course, that will never happen, but we need to always keep that in mind and constantly be working to involve more people."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Miller, Holly G.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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