By JAY REY
Published May 5, 2023
Long before the sun is up, while still in the wee hours of the morning, Joe Syracuse is already out of bed and on his treadmill.
Then, he walks.
And he walks.
And he walks some more.
Over the course of a day, Syracuse, a senior academic adviser in the College of Arts and Sciences, says he walks a minimum of five hours — sometimes six, even seven. That’s as many as 50,000 steps, or the equivalent of 20-plus miles. It’s like walking from the North Campus to Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, which is why he understands if people might be a little skeptical.
“Nobody believes me,” Syracuse says with a shrug.
But they might if they took part in last month’s eighth annual Step Challenge, sponsored by the School of Public Health and Health Professions. For the second straight year, Syracuse was the top stepper in the challenge, recording 1,678,375 steps during the month of April.
“I wasn’t even going to do it, but I decided at the last minute, ‘What the heck? I have to walk anyway, so why not?’” Syracuse says.
“It’s not for show. I’m not out to prove anything,” he says. “It’s just what I do. I walk.”
Syracuse, 60, was in his early 50s when he started walking an hour a day, after years of running had taken a toll on his body.
But he wanted to see more health benefits from his walking, and after receiving some undesirable numbers from his doctor, Syracuse started increasing his steps.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he settled into a routine.
Syracuse, an early riser all his life, says it’s not unusual for him to be up and on his basement treadmill by 2:30 a.m. — an hour that requires him to get to bed around 8:30 the night before.
He laces up his Nike extra wides, sets the treadmill for a brisk but conversational pace and arranges his iPad in front of him. While he walks, he catches up on emails or watches NetFlix or does some banking or shops online or gets a jump on his workday.
Syracuse, of the Town of Lockport, says he’s on the treadmill until about 5 a.m., when he gets ready for the day, then hops back on again for a half hour before leaving for work. A UB employee for more than two decades, Syracuse tries to arrive at his office in Park Hall by 7 a.m. to squeeze in an hour walk around campus before his workday begins.
He says he gets in some steps during lunch, when he gets home from work and again after dinner. His Fitbit tracks his steps, but he’s meticulous about recording the minutes and hours he’s accumulated walking. It’s rare he misses his daily goal of walking five hours.
“What I do usually equates to maybe 35,000 steps a day,” Syracuse says. “I’ve been doing a little bit more now because of the Step Challenge.”
He’s inspired others.
Brant Kresovich, one of Syracuse’s colleagues in the College of Arts and Sciences, decided to join him in the Step Challenge this year and walks with Syracuse around the North Campus in the morning twice a week.
“I knew that I could not approach his number of steps, but I thought if he could devote more than an hour a day to stepping, then I could, too,” Kresovich says.
Kresovich gradually worked up from an hour a day to about 90 minutes a day.
“I came to realize he was right when he argued that you can get in a lot of steps in just 10 minutes if you set a brisk pace,” Kresovich says. “And the science says as little as 10 minutes of brisk walking can have cardio benefits.”
Syracuse and Kresovich were among the 2,004 walkers on 102 teams that took part in this year’s Step Challenge. Together, participants logged 430,921,419 steps, says Grace Lazzara, director of marketing, communications and outreach for the School of Public Health and Health Professions.
“The mission of our school is improving health for everyone and the Step Challenge is a fun way to help do that in a worldwide UB community,” Lazzara says.
“A final total of nearly half a billion steps tells us that most steppers made their cardiovascular systems very happy during April,” she says.
As for his health, Syracuse says walking has done wonders. It relieves his stress from the day and helps the husband and father of two stay trim — although his cholesterol numbers are still a little higher than he’d like.
“Walking has become a lifestyle,” Syracuse says. “You have to find what works best for you and this works for me. I love it. I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”
Eduvijez (Duvi) Sanchez (center), assistant director of recruitment for the Graduate School of Education, says combining coffee and walking was her favorite trick to get in steps. A member of GSE Quad Squad, she says she enjoyed building a connection to teammates outside of the job. To get to her goal of 20,000 daily steps, she also recruited others, including her brother Jordan (left) and her boyfriend Ryan. “They have also increased their steps this month on coffee walks with me around Hoyt Lake and other Buffalo walking spots.”
Retired UB librarians Sue Neumeister (left) and Pat Houston meet up during the week to walk. Neumeister says she strives for 25,000 steps a day during the challenge and sometimes finds herself walking alone. “I may listen to an audiobook I downloaded from the library,” Neumeister says. “Or I just listen to the birds chirping early in the morning. It’s very calming.”
“It doesn’t hurt to have a dog who pushes you to walk,” says Megan Krebuszewski, marketing and communications manager with the Graduate School. Krebuszewski, a member of Great Gait Grad School, set a goal of at least 12,000 daily steps for the challenge. “I have a competitive side, so the challenge helps me to push myself even further.”
UB alumnus John Zendano took part in the Step Challenge from Tokyo, Japan. He says this was his first time in the challenge and his daily goal was to walk as much as he could. “Walking around the Imperial Palace in Japan relaxes me before work,” Zendano says.