WILMINGTON, N.C. – Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina’s Million Step March crossed the finish line today to the cheers of a crowd at Riverfront Park in downtown Wilmington. The event concluded a 10-week, 600-mile walk across the state to promote the benefits of physical activity.
The journey kicked off in Asheville on April 1 when the team – led by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) Vice President of Community Relations Kathy Higgins and spokesman Gary Marino – began a walk from the mountains to the coast, inspiring thousands of North Carolinians along the way to lace up their walking shoes and join the march, both in person and online.
Along the way, the team hosted more than 4,500 North Carolinians at 38 educational events held at nonprofit organizations, parks, worksites, schools and other locations in towns large and small. Another 6,400 people participated online by logging more than half a billion steps, equal to walking about 270,000 miles, on the Million Step March’s interactive website, BetterHealthNC.com.
During the finish line celebration, Higgins and Marino reflected on their statewide journey and challenged families to take steps to improve their health.
“This experience has truly been life-changing for me,” said Higgins. “I feel healthier and stronger. More importantly, we’ve inspired North Carolinians to believe that anyone can make good health a habit, one step at a time.”
“I made a commitment to live a healthier lifestyle, so that I can be around to watch my children and grandchildren grow up,” said Marino, who has lost more than 25 pounds since starting the walk. “I talked to many North Carolinians on our journey who made the same commitment. Eating better and getting more exercise are the best steps you can take for yourself and your entire family.”
The event featured fun and interactive wellness activities, such as “bicycle blenders” that make fruit smoothies as you pedal and healthy cooking demonstrations. Several farmers from the Riverfront Farmers Market also participated, encouraging families to include more fresh vegetables and fruits in their diets.
Higgins and Marino walked the last part of their journey with several BCBSNC and state leaders, including George C. Stokes, executive administrator of the North Carolina State Health Plan. The plan covers North Carolina’s public school teachers and state employees.
“As a walker representing 648,000 State Health Plan members, I commend Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina for sponsoring the Million Step March,” said Stokes. “Wellness programs like this are vital to improving health status, preventing chronic disease and ultimately, controlling health care costs.”
Also at the finale event, Girl Scouts - North Carolina Coastal Pines was announced as winner of the Million Step March ‘Step It Up’ contest.  For a period of one month, members of the public voted at BetterHealthNC.com to determine which of 12 nonprofit applicant organizations could best promote physical activity in NC communities. The Girl Scout council received the highest vote total for their proposed program, Make Every Dance Step Count.
Higgins presented the Girl Scouts with a $75,000 physical activity award, sponsored by BCBSNC and Be Active North Carolina, to implement their dance program across 41 counties. Make Every Dance Step Count is fun way for girls, volunteers, families and community members to boost their physical activity through dance. The program will give Girl Scouts the opportunity to explore various styles of dance, the history and culture behind the steps, and the health benefits of dancing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a full 58 percent of North Carolinians do not get the recommended levels of physical activity.* BCBSNC, which insures more than one in three North Carolinians, reports that 61 percent of its customers are overweight or obese. Walking just 30 minutes on most days may help prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity – in turn helping to keep health care affordable. BCBSNC is dedicated to improving the health of all North Carolinians, one step at a time.
* Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2005.
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina:
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is a leader in delivering innovative health care products, services and information to more than 3.7 million members, including approximately 904,000 served on behalf of other Blue Plans. For 75 years, the company has served its customers by offering health insurance at a competitive price and has served the people of North Carolina through support of community organizations, programs and events that promote good health. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Access BCBSNC online at bcbsnc.com.
About Million Step March:
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is stepping up its commitment to physical activity with its Million Step March. This new statewide wellness initiative focuses on promoting the benefits of simple, yet effective forms of physical activity like walking. The March begins in Asheville and ends in Wilmington.   It also includes an interactive web site which provides North Carolinians with opportunities to join the March online, and shows them how to make good health a habit, one step at a time. To step it up, visit BetterHealthNC.com.