Although she hasn’t set foot on campus since March, Ann Whitmer became the first staff member in the Step Up UCI walking program to reach the 1.5 million-step milestone. In more ways than one, she goes the distance.

Whitmer telecommutes from her home in Mason, Mich., to her job as UCI’s associate director of policy for financial aid and scholarships. Although some wags have joked that she logged the steps by walking the more than 2,500 miles from Mason to UCI, she actually racked up the numbers on her pedometer as part of her training regimen for the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, Mich., which she completed May 27. Often, she had to step out in frigid winter temperatures.

“When you’re running seven miles in seven-degree weather, it feels like a really long run,” Whitmer says.

Step Up UCI, a free program for faculty and staff that promotes a healthier lifestyle as well as camaraderie among coworkers, helped keep her motivated for the 26-mile run. Launched in January, the program offers rewards for participants as they reach various milestones, from 250,000 steps for the UCLA “destination” to the 1.5 million mark, or UC Davis incentive.

“It’s also helped me stay connected with my co-workers and the campus,” Whitmer says. Her Step Up UCI group includes 16 staffers from her department who collectively have taken more than six million steps since Jan. 18.

Whitmer started at UCI in 1993 as a financial aid counselor, then transferred to the UC Office of the President in Oakland. In 2000, she returned to UCI, but family demands required her to move to Mason three years ago. She arranged to bring the job with her, thanks to telecommuting technology. She keeps in contact through e-mails, conference calls and weeklong visits every few months.

Despite being so far from other Step Up UCI participants, Whitmer does not walk alone. She is part of a team organized through a local running store, and her 11-year-old son, also an avid runner, helps her train.

“I never thought I would run a marathon,” Whitmer says. “It’s important to be part of a group when trying to reach a goal, and Step Up UCI has helped me do that.”