ST. GEORGE — Southern Utah University won this year’s “Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge,” prevailing against 91 colleges from across the country in what organizers billed as a “Mother-Nature-meets-March-Madness competition” aimed at getting people outside and active.
Participants downloaded the Outdoor Nation app and posted photos of their outdoor adventures. Approved activities included biking, camping, hiking, swimming, caving, climbing, stargazing; anything that helped people recreate outside. Participants could post up to five times a day and receive points depending on the difficulty of the activity.
SUU dominated the competition, scoring 291,729 points and outdistancing the next closest university by 97,971 points, according to a press release from the school. The event was held from Sept. 18 to Oct. 15. SUU also won the challenge in 2015.
More than 2,300 people participated for SUU, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, family and friends who logged 14,974 outdoor activities.
“We proved once again that SUU is the most outdoorsy school in the nation,” school President Scott L Wyatt said. “We are surrounded by national and state parks and recreational areas that act as extra classroom space. SUU the perfect place to enjoy the outdoors.”
Wyatt personally earned 3,477 points, placing him second for SUU and seventh in the nation.
He hosted a campus campout on the last weekend of the competition with over 150 campers sleeping under the stars at SUU. The event included music, free food, outdoor activities, campus ghost tours and morning yoga.
Amanda Runge, SUU event coordinator, took first place for SUU and third in the nation, posting five activities every day of the challenge. She led daily runs and helped organize the campus campout.
“SUU is amazing because we have a winning spirit and fight in all that we do,” Runge said. “We sometimes feel like underdogs, overshadowed by bigger schools in the nation, but we always hold our own, give it our best shot and frequently end up on top.”
Trademarked the “University of the Parks,” SUU’s students, faculty, alumni, families and the community were all encouraged to demonstrate school pride as they participated in the competition.
Abigail Wyatt, SUU’s student representative for Outdoor Nation, established an organizing committee of individuals and departments across campus who created multiple events that students could easily participate in during competition.
Events included daily hikes and runs, weekly yoga sessions, outdoor classrooms, climbing clinics, service projects, mountain biking experiences and hammock villages.
“Our committee had so much enthusiasm for the event across campus,” Abigail Wyatt said. “This is why SUU is so deserving of this award. Everyone contributed in various ways and found creative solutions to make SUU victorious. We really came together and made this a campus-wide experience.”
Even local businesses found a way to participate and give back to SUU. Outdoor Vitals donated backpacks and sleeping bags, and Cedar Sports offered discounts for participants and sponsored a free mountain-biking clinic every Friday.
Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge is committed to reconnecting individuals with the outdoors, according to the SUU press release. It is an initiative dedicated to inspiring and encouraging college students and the community to be outdoor enthusiasts.
It also aims to combat the inactivity crisis prevalent among many youth and young adults in America. Being active and outside also reduces stress, increases one’s ability to concentrate and positively affects physical, mental and emotional health.