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Meet the Take It Outside Challenge winners who completed all 501 missions

A collage of participants in the Take It Outside challenge

Mike Slowik of Bolingbrook said he questioned his sanity back in March as he sat in his car in a cold, dark parking lot waiting for raccoons to appear.

Slowik was one of more than 1,200 people who took part in the Forest Preserve District’s yearlong 2023 Take It Outside Challenge, which required participants to complete nature-themed missions. 

Missions included trivia questions, check-ins within the preserves, selfies with specific backgrounds and hunts for various nature elements such as flowing water, boulders, moss, multi-trunked trees, and creatures, ranging from woolly bear caterpillars to those elusive live raccoons.

The challenge ended Dec. 31 with Slowik as part of a 12-way tie for first place. One first-place finisher was not eligible to win because he is a District employee, and two others are married and per the rules, only get one share of the prize. Those atop the leaderboard completed all 501 missions released throughout the year to earn 13,086 points, the maximum available. 

Participants downloaded the free Goosechase app on their smartphones and created accounts to get started. The top three finishers were supposed to earn $500, $250 and $150 gift cards for first, second and third places, respectively. But so many people tied for first, the $900 in total prize money will be split between those who topped the leader board on the final day. 

More than 1,200 people participated in the challenge completing around 115,000 missions in total, which was a record for the largest-ever experience hosted on the Goosechase platform.

For many, the Take It Outside challenge was transformational. Stories poured in all year long about how the missions were getting people to walk more than they had in years, lose weight, discover Will County’s preserves, feel better mentally and physically and make new friends. 

Mystery and excitement

Slowik, who has completed some of the Forest Preserve’s toughest hiking challenges in the past, said he joined this one to explore even more preserves in the county. His favorite part of the Take It Outside Challenge was spending time with his wife, who has multiple sclerosis.

“She doesn’t get out all that much, so this was awesome for her,” he said in an email.

Another first-place finisher, Heather Linko of Crest Hill, said when she joined the challenge a year ago, she thought it would be an easy way to motivate herself to get outside and to win a prize. But after completing missions all year, she said she realized it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t about the prize. 

“Instead, it became a weekly game of mystery and excitement that got me outside in nature exploring our Will County preserves,” she wrote in an email. “I have lived in Will County my entire life. Thanks to Take It Outside, I have explored more new parts of Will County this year than ever before!”

She even powered through a knee injury and surgery to complete all the missions. 

“I refocused, slowed down, and tried to enjoy the journey a bit more,” she said. “In the midst of 501 missions, I found a lesson.” 

‘A kinship among us’

Some of the other winners also chimed in via email about how much they enjoyed the inaugural Take It Outside Challenge: 

Joanne Nott of Plainfield said her favorite memory was the people she met while out on missions. “There was a kinship among us, and everyone was willing to share their thoughts and feelings about this outside challenge,” she said. 

Matthew Jaeger of Crest Hill said he became nervous when the number of people competing grew from six to hundreds, but he persevered, even though he had trouble finding a snake, a spider and a fish after those missions were released. He, too, appreciated the camaraderie. “Besides finding new preserves, meeting the extended group of Goosechase friends was the best part of the experience,” he said. 

Nick Scholtes of Shorewood, who competed with his wife, Stacey, said one of the best missions required participants to venture out on the water in a canoe or kayak. “A mission requiring us to kayak was just SOOOO cool,” he wrote. “We enjoyed it so much that we subsequently bought our own kayaks and spent quite a few weekends kayaking in our own kayaks at Lake Chaminwood and Rock Run Rookery!”

Linda Neumann of Manhattan said joining the challenge was a great way to increase her step goals and find new places to hike with her husband, Ross. “Becoming friends with other participants helped keep me encouraged throughout the year and our dog, Cooper, really got to know the words, ‘Want to go on a mission?’ because he loved all the missions.”

Amy Bartling of Monee said she and her daughter, Zoey, had a great time with the challenge, hiking and seeing new preserves. “(We) also learned a lot, especially the names of a lot of plants in the area from having to find them for the challenges. Thanks for doing it!”

Kathy Figuieras of Elwood said she normally runs by herself in the preserves. But after joining the challenge, her husband started accompanying her more and more until he would wait on Sundays for the missions to be released so they could travel together to tackle them and have lunch. “We got to walk a lot more as a couple and have quality time together every Sunday,” Kathy said. 

Ulises Coronel and his wife, Martha, of Chicago said they had a great time competing, especially the missions that required participants to find cutouts of the District’s mascot, Willy, posted in the preserves. “The feeling of anticipation that we got as we completed the missions was awesome,” Ulises said.

Melissa Warren of Homer Glen said the Take It Outside Challenge was one of highlights of her year. “I have lots of stories and I had some great personal growth this year that I believe was partly due to the challenge.”

For those who loved the 2023 Take It Outside Challenge and those who wished they had joined earlier or at all, a 2024 challenge will be launched later in January. So, stay tuned to the Current Headlines section of the website and the Forest Preserve’s social media accounts for more details. 

Funding for the Take It Outside Challenge was generously provided by The Nature Foundation of Will County

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