If you're in the vicinity of West Valley City this afternoon around 1:30 p.m. and notice this huge horde of kids walking around Carl Sandburg Elementary School and screaming like they just won the lottery, don't panic. They didn't.

But their teacher did.

In a manner of speaking.

Susie Gaily, a special education teacher at Carl Sandburg, is this year's winner in the annual statewide "Walk the Walk" competition sponsored by Educators Mutual Insurance Association. From March 3 through April 30, a period of 59 days, she walked nearly 2.4 million steps, as measured by her official EMIA-issued pedometer.

In the popular "get-healthy" contest participated in by nearly 1,000 teachers, Gaily edged out her closest competitor by over a quarter of a million steps — or roughly 200 miles.

Not bad for someone who had surgery in November.

And four years ago was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

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The first sign Susie had that something wasn't right was when her knees started to hurt and her ankles talked back to her when she walked.

When the doctor confirmed she had MS, she had three thoughts: She has three kids to raise, a husband to take care of, and a class full of special education kids to move through elementary school.

She couldn't stop, she just couldn't.

"They told me I couldn't give in," she remembers. "Once I surrender I'm finished."

Ever since, she's been the picture of perpetual motion.

When she heard about "Walk the Walk," it was exactly what the doctor ordered.

You name it, she walked there in March and April. The mall, the expo center, the boat show, the mountains.

She walked on the treadmill at home.

She walked while working at her second job, teaching English as a Second Language in night school.

She walked while watching her kids play soccer.

But the place she walked the most was on the school playground.

"Special ed kids run 24/7 anyway," she says. "We're chasing a kid at least 10 times a day, and when we're not doing that we're running with them."

Since any activity with students counts double mileage, having all those active kids was Susie's ace in the hole.

During the contest period she lost 16 pounds, or about two pounds a week. She also lowered her cholesterol, lost any semblance of high blood pressure and her oxygen levels shot up to superb.

"Everyone," she says, "should do this."

Her 2.4 million-plus steps works out, at 2,000 steps to the mile, to 1,200 miles in 59 days, or Salt Lake to St. Louis. Add in her bonus miles and she walked nearly 1,400 miles.

In today's ceremony at the school, Susie will lap the playground with her special ed kids and the first-graders next door who often join her for playtime. After that she'll get a check for $500 from Educators Mutual to purchase the school supplies of her choice, plus a gift certificate for a spa treatment.

She plans to use it, too. She'll be the one walking to and from the spa.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.