The Kick Axe Wellness Challenge at SFA

Kick Axe Wellness Challenge

Recently, Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) hosted its seventh annual Kick Axe Wellness Challenge.

The five-week challenge focuses on SFA’s seven dimensions of wellness. “It is designed to promote a healthier lifestyle for the entire SFA campus, faculty and staff members, and students,” said Jessica Waguespack, the assistant director of Campus Recreation Employee Wellness at SFA.

What is the Kick Axe Wellness Challenge?

The challenge started in 2013 when SFA Campus Recreation took over the Employee Wellness program. Waguespack explained when she was hired, there was a desire to build a more robust program. Inspired by other universities’ programs, the Kick Axe Wellness Challenge was born.

“For the first three years, the Challenge was offered to faculty and staff members, with my goal to expand it to the entire campus community,” said Waguespack. “Since then, we’ve collaborated with various academic classes to incorporate the Challenge into their course. Teams are also encouraged to get their student workers involved.”

EXTRA CREDIT: From programming for students and staff to spaces and visual design, three campus recreation professionals share how they are providing the best wellness options for their campus communities.

Participants form teams of four. Across the five-weeks, they track their progress on about 40 daily and weekly tasks. They range from easy to hard, and the number of points allotted to each is determined by difficulty level:

  • Wear your seat belt.
  • Turn off the faucet while brushing and flossing your teeth.
  • Complete two household chores.
  • Eat two non-meat dinners.
  • Take at least 30 minutes to positively manage your stress twice each week.
  • Turn off or refrain from playing or checking email on your phone while dining with others.

At the end of the challenge, the top three teams win. However, each participant who completes the five weeks will also earn a prize.

Overcoming Programming Challenges

For the 2021 Kick Axe Challenge, Waguespack said their greatest obstacle was figuring out how to offer it to participants who are working on campus, telecommuting full time or fluctuating between both. One team this year was made entirely of telecommuters.

They also had to think outside the box with social distancing considerations. “With one of our dimensions being socio-cultural, we had to be a bit creative,” said Waguespack. “We now offer a virtual museum tour and teams can meet socially via Zoom or FaceTime to name a few added options. This has been so successful; we will continue this option once the global pandemic goes away. Despite the need to socially distance, I’ve kept participants in teams so they can continue to provide motivation and encouragement to one another.”

Over the years, Waguespack has learned a couple of ways to increase program engagement:

  • Participants would get discouraged when they saw other team’s points each week and how far ahead they were. To prevent this, Waguespack only releases team rankings on a weekly basis, not points.
  • Participants can write in an activity or event of their choice.
  • Participants get submitted into a drawing at the end for additional prizes.

What are the Benefits of the Kick Axe Wellness Challenge?

Waguspack noted several:

  • A participant said their dentist was pleased with their flossing habits and could see what a difference five weeks made.
  • Many departments have multiple teams participate, which has led to feeling more connected to one another and the creation of friendships.
  • The academic classes who participate randomly assign teams. This has allowed students to get to know others in their class. As one professor has said: “Now you know at least three others in this class you can rely on.”
  • Students have reported the challenge caused them to try new things they would not have otherwise.
  • Students and employees have reported how much more aware they are of their overall well-being and how they’ve got their loved ones to make small changes.
  • Lastly, for those departments and programs that are showcased within the challenge — like the College of Fine Arts, the planetarium, the Office and Multicultural Affairs, and many more — it has brought even more awareness to them.

Kick Axe Wellness Challenge

Six Quick Tips

If you are looking to create a similar program at your university, Waguespack gave several final tips:

  1. Do not get discouraged as participation fluctuates.
  2. Encourage departments to put together multiple teams.
  3. Complete post-program surveys each year.
  4. Prizes, prizes, prizes. SFA gives out prizes to the top team each week, to the final top three teams, to participants who complete the program in its entirety and even draws names for additional prizes.
  5. Come up with ways to keep the campus informed of the program’s progress, like a daily e-newsletter.
  6. You don’t need fancy software to collect and track team information each week. SFA used Excel solely for the first few years, and in 2021 branched out to Microsoft 365 Forms and Excel.

Images courtesy of Stephen F. Austin State University

Heather Hartmann
Heather Hartmann is the editor for Campus Rec Magazine. She can be reached at

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