Shuffle to Buffalo

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO, Hockey players from the Portland Winter Hawks team, from left, Scott Gabriel, Viktor Sjodin, Ryan Kerr and Jake Dietrich high-five students at Oak Creek Elementary during a visit to the school last week as part of the “The Shuffle to Buffalo” program.

There's no doubt about it - it's a long, long way from Lake Oswego to Buffalo, N.Y.

By Mapquest's estimations, it would take a roadtripper about 39 hours to drive the 2,651 miles between the two cities. By plane, a good five hours in the air plus a layover if you're leaving out of Portland International Airport.

And by foot? Well, the 372 students at Oak Creek Elementary figured out that 5,302,000 steps gets you there by paved road, but swimming across Lake Michigan and Lake Erie makes the trip go much faster.

But, they realized they could get really cold in the 43-degree water.

So during one portion of their recent 'movement' program, 'The Shuffle to Buffalo,' they took out scooter boards in gym class and 'swam' their way across the lakes.

As soon as they hit the shore of Lake Erie, they knew they had reached their final destination, though it wasn't in plain sight.

The kids' trip across the U.S. in 'The Shuffle to Buffalo' - co-created by Oak Creek physical education teacher Louise Gaustad and her 25-year-old son Paul Gaustad - started at the school Oct. 1. Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon donated pedometers, which were worn by students during recess and measured how many steps the students took while they played, skipped and ran.

Their goal - which they met last week - was to make it from Lake Oswego to Buffalo by Thanksgiving. Louise traveled to Buffalo Wednesday to complete the journey and watch Paul play center for the Buffalo Sabres professional hockey team. A Beaverton High School graduate, Paul played for the Portland Winter Hawks as a teenager.

'My son and I designed this program just as an incentive to get kids moving so that activity becomes a lifestyle and to fight youth diseases,' Louise said. 'This project has many objectives: get kids moving, raise their awareness of their personal activity, set goals and use the pedometers as a tool for moving.'

Each day, parent volunteers tallied the steps, calculated the miles walked and added to the red line slowly stretching across the U.S. map posted at the school. Two thousand steps equal one mile; their 2 millionth step took them into Iowa.

Originally, Louise geared the project toward the first and second graders. But a few weeks into the 'Shuffle,' the fifth and sixth graders chipped in their steps from a required monthly 9-minute run to help the younger kids meet their goal. The third and fourth graders also helped out by walking across Wisconsin during gym class.

'Each week when the students come down to gym I talk to them about the highlights of the particular state we are crossing, which direction are we going, how many steps we have taken, how many left and what choices of activities are we making,' said Louise, who also e-mailed a weekly report of their virtual journey to the Oak Creek community.

Louise surprised the students with a visit from four Winter Hawk hockey players Nov. 15 during recess. Scott Gabriel, Viktor Sjodin, Ryan Kerr and Jake Dietrick played soccer and participated in other fun activities with the students.

'I am not sure who had more fun,' Louise said. 'However, I can tell you there was a lot of excitement. The Winter Hawks thought it was so much fun and were amazed at the energy of the first and second graders.'

In chilly Buffalo, Paul arranged for students from the Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence to join Oak Creek in the program and walk their way across the nation to Lake Oswego. The Wright School students plan to make it to Lake Oswego by Christmas or New Year's, and they will swim laps in a pool to cross the lakes.

Louise will meet up with the Wright School students and their teachers during the Sabres game this week.

At the same time, both schools are committed to helping fight youth diseases, especially cancer. Oak Creek collected stuffed animals for kids with cancer. One student, Cade Spiering, donated 106 Webkinz toys to the cause. Louise took half of the donated toys with her to Buffalo.

Meanwhile, the Wright School is holding a fundraiser and the Sabres will match whatever amount they raise.

Oak Creek celebrated the completion of the two-month program at an assembly Tuesday in the school gym.

Louise led cheers, including a 'Go Sabres!' cheer on speaker phone for her son and his teammates. Paul told the students how proud they made him.

Everyone applauded Oak Creek parents Anne Nudleman and Tracy Groznik, who have been instrumental in implementing 'The Shuffle to Buffalo.'

Unicyclists, jump ropers and gymnasts showed off their athletic skills as well. Then, students sent Louise - clad in a personalized Sabres jersey - off to Buffalo with major fanfare.

'It has been much more than we had ever expected,' she said.