These Googlers Stepped It Up For Walktober

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Yousuf Fauzan’s mother knew she’d be on the phone a lot this October. Every day during the month, she’d talk to her son for hours as he paced around his home in California. “She would get irritated, she would disconnect the call, then I’d call again 15 minutes later.”

Calling his mom — and pretty much everyone he knows — was how Yousuf, a YouTube software engineer, passed the time while getting his steps in for “Walktober,” Google’s annual employee walking competition. “I don’t talk to people on the phone often, but during October, I call anyone and everyone I’ve ever known.” After spending his workday walking during meetings, Yousuf would lap around the inside of his condo from 7:00 p.m. until 4:00 a.m. to hold his top spot on the leaderboard. By the end of the month, he’d accumulated more than two million steps.

Planning lead Tiffany Bartish-Katz says this is the kind of “fierce but friendly” competition that Walktober attracts. Started in 2011 as a local effort in Google’s Cambridge, Massachusetts office, Walktober quickly went global: This year, more than 26,000 employees across 190 offices joined the competition, putting in over five billion steps. “I’m always a little awestruck by the number of people who engage in this very simple, friendly, fun, grassroots project,” Tiffany says. And the planning team works hard to make sure everyone gets in the spirit — from ultra walkers like Yousuf, to those who are adding just a few more thousand steps to their routines.

Some Walktober participants decided to put their step counts towards a good cause. Last year, Greg Kroleski, a Google Cloud Product Manager, walked for 24 hours straight. As he considered doing another 24-hour challenge this year, a coworker suggested tying it to a fundraiser. “A lot of people paid attention last year. I wanted to direct that attention to something good.” Greg dedicated this year’s challenge, and his team’s entire Walktober effort, to raise awareness for myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CF), a chronic disease that causes overwhelming fatigue. He and his colleagues ended up raising $14,000. As for the 24-hour challenge? Greg logged over 204,000 steps that day, breaking a Google Walktober record…for a few hours, at least. “Unfortunately, the next day, someone else broke my record.” All the more reason to give it another go next year. “You might see me again,” he says.

Ziad Reslan, a Product Policy Advisor at Google, also channeled his team’s Walktober efforts towards something good. “I wanted to spend the entire last day of Walktober walking as an ode to the journeys of millions of refugees who have no choice but to walk to get to safety,” he says. To raise awareness for LGBTQ+ refugees in the Middle East in particular, Ziad organized a walk from Google’s San Francisco office to its Mountain View headquarters — a familiar 38.8-mile route for California commuters. He received over $25,000 in pledged donations from fellow Googlers, with a handful joining him throughout the day.

When Ziad and his colleagues reached the Mountain View campus that evening, he was overwhelmed: “I teared up remembering the first time I had ever been [to Mountain View] wishing to become a Googler,” he says. “And now here I was, walking to it surrounded by other Googlers for a good cause.”

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Michelle Budzyna
  • Michelle Budzyna