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TDCJ involvement triples
Good health exercised through Texas Roundup Challenge participation

Johnson and Dunphy standing in front of entrance of building
TDCJ managers Ken Johnson, left, and John Dunphy talk race strategy prior to the start of the Texas Roundup Governor’s Challenge 10K Walk/Run in Austin on April 30.
Photo by Jene Robbins
Each and every day, TDCJ Human Resources Employment Section Director Ken Johnson does something he doesn’t enjoy but steadfastly won’t go without doing. He runs.

“I don’t like running, never did,” said Johnson who nevertheless has run 292 races, including 25 marathons, since 1983, is president of a Huntsville-based running club of approximately 150 members, and has authored a book on how to stage a foot race. “I do it for the exercise, but I play a lot of games with myself to make myself run.”

In late April, Johnson joined more than 100 other TDCJ employees, including Risk Manager John Dunphy, in entering the Texas Roundup Governor’s Challenge 10K Run/Walk or 10K Relay in Austin, the culminating events of a six-week physical activity program that 7,363 agency employees took part in at some point, triple the number from last year. The state agency with the highest percentage of participation and completion of the six-week challenge is honored each year with the Governor’s Cup. TDCJ finished third in the large state agency category a year ago with more than 2,700 employees, friends and family members involved and took the bronze medal again this year with its increased participation. The Department of Public Safety won this year’s Governor’s Cup while the Department of State Health Services took the gold medal and the Texas Department of Transportation the silver.

State employees participating in the Texas Governor’s Roundup Challenge must complete a total of 30 minutes of physical activity of their choosing - walking, running, dancing, swimming, softball - five days a week over the six-week period or either participate in the 10K events in Austin or volunteer to work them. TDCJ supports the challenge by awarding qualifying employees with four hours of administrative leave for their efforts. More than 6,000 TDCJ employees completed the entire six-week program this year, another threefold increase from a year ago.

Both Johnson and Dunphy say that taking part in the Roundup Challenge can not only improve the health of employees but also that of the agency.

“Ultimately it does,” Johnson said. “It can reduce absenteeism and make for more productive employees.”

“It has been proven that a healthier employee takes less time off, has more energy and better concentration,” Dunphy added. “It’s a win-win for the agency as far as employee productivity.”

Dunphy is a member of the running club that Johnson co-founded in 1985 and presides over as president. Other club members include Correctional Institutions Division Director Doug Dretke and former TDCJ executive director Gary Johnson.

“Health, number one,” Dunphy said about why he’s been an avid runner since 1984. “It’s a way for me to relax and to get rid of all the other things. It’s peaceful and I enjoy the adrenaline rush. It’s a healthy lifestyle.”

Always athletic, Dunphy, 57, ran the Houston Marathon in 1994 but mainly competes in shorter races, including the Capitol 10K race held earlier in Austin where he finished the 6.2-mile course “somewhere in the middle of the pack” in his age group.

Johnson has run the 26.2-mile Houston Marathon 11 times. Like all soldiers, he got into a running rhythm in the military. Retiring as a lieutenant colonel, he last worked for a major general who encouraged his senior staff members to run beyond the typical two-mile limit. He ran his first 10K race while still a soldier and also became heavily involved in race management. In 1991, he published a book that is now in his third printing and is sold in all 50 states and in a number of foreign countries.

“I think you have to get involved in your sport, and running is my sport,” Johnson said about his reason for writing the book. “It’s a comprehensive book about how to put on a race, whether it’s a marathon or a 5K.”

In December 1997, Johnson started running each day, a streak that would not end until he was hospitalized in December 2002 for an appendectomy.

“When I had an appendectomy I was two weeks short of five years without missing a day,” he said.

Johnson was sidelined for 12 days, but remarkably, if not stubbornly, tried to run while still in stitches.

“I tried, but it didn’t work,” he said with a laugh. “It hurt.”

At 64, Johnson plans to keep up his running regime when he retires from the agency in August after 20 years of service.

“My goal in life is to die crossing the finish line at a marathon at age 90,” he joked.

These days Johnson typically runs several miles daily, but never less than one mile. Because of business meetings and other activities, he often runs late at night, sometimes as late as 11:30. But he says that not running at all is “not an option” for him.

“It’s an integral part of my life, a priority,” he said. “I laugh when people tell me that they don’t have time to run. You can make time for anything if it’s a priority. And to me, your health has got to be your number one priority. So it’s not a question of if I’m going to run every day, it’s a matter of when I’m going to run.”

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