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Relay to hand off health across state

If you resolved to get in better shape this year, here's a good first step: Walk to the calendar and circle Feb. 23.

That's the day Citrus County residents can participate in an unusual, monthlong event designed to get the Sunshine State up and exercising.

Organizers call it Step Up, Florida, On Our Way to Healthy Living! It's kind of like a huge relay race.

On four separate dates in February, four teams will set out from various parts of Florida _ tentatively set for Escambia, Madison, Collier and Monroe counties.

Teams will transport their flags to the county line using any number of volunteer walkers, runners, inline skaters, swimmers, kayakers and so on.

Participants from the next counties will grab the flags and advance them. At least one flag will pass through all 67 counties.

Eventually, on Feb. 26, the flags are scheduled to wind up in Orlando.

Citrus will play its part on Feb. 23, and it will be a significant part: On that day, two flags are scheduled to make their way to the county line.

According to preliminary routes, no other county (other than Orange, the end point) will have two flags.

One flag will come from Levy County and be picked up near Yankeetown. That flag will come from what the state is calling Route 1, the one that starts in Escambia.

The second flag will come from Hernando County and be picked up near U.S. 98. That flag is part of Route 3, the one that starts in Collier.

What happens then? Tom O'Brien, the Citrus County Health Department's health education consultant, is still working on that.

He's looking for individuals, families, clubs, office mates _ anyone who wants to help get the flags from the county line to Floral Park off U.S. 41 S in Floral City.

From there, even more volunteers will get the flags to the Withlacoochee River bridge on County Road 48, where Sumter County will take over.

Keep in mind, the route doesn't necessarily have to be direct. For example, the flag coming from Yankeetown might detour at Kings Bay, where rowers could transport it for a time.

O'Brien hoped at least one flag will make it to the Withlacoochee State Trail, thus limiting the volunteers' exposure to busy U.S. 41 S.

The state Department of Health, Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control is organizing the event. Locally, O'Brien and a subcommittee of the Citrus County Community Health Council are in charge.

Who's welcome to participate? "Anybody who wants to get out and be a part and get involved," O'Brien said. "It doesn't take a lot. They don't have to walk 10 miles."

People can volunteer on their own or as part of a group. O'Brien hopes to use a combination of Citrus' waterways, trails and parks.

"We're really targetting the people who aren't getting a lot of exercise," O'Brien said. "We'd love to get families involved, just participation at all levels."

Anyone wanting to participate, or ask questions, should call O'Brien at 527-0068, ext. 287.