Which would you rather have for a personal trainer: A well-toned fitness enthusiast or a zombie apocalypse?

Southern Oregon University student Christopher Applegate is working on a capstone project that utilizes the latter, specifically with "Zompocalypse Fitness," a unique fitness app that takes a page or two from a George Romero movie. it's basically a hybrid of a workout trainer and serial zombie story where a group of survivors fights to stay alive.

“It’s like when you pick up a good book. You fall in love with a character. You get into it and you can’t put it down,” Applegate, 41, says. “We’re absolutely counting on that for motivation.”

Patient zero

Applegate's idea for the app started with an assignment in one of his digital media classes at SOU, where he was tasked with designing an iPad app.

A fitness enthusiast who fights wildland fires during the summer, he says he gets "kind of bored" with the usual workout regimens. The night before class, he thought of an idea for how to change that oft-mundane grind.

“I was thinking about zombies, watching ‘Walking Dead,’ " Applegate says. "At the same time, I was thinking, 'I should go work out before class tomorrow.' It just kind of came to me."

The idea was to turn a zombie story into a series of workout routines. Project artist and SOU alum Chris LaGasse, 35, says the 18-episode story will follow a character through a journey that starts in Ashland and heads north. App users are thrust into the middle of the tale and experience it as it happens through the workouts.

"It's a really kind of action-packed, really interesting, character-driven kind of story," LaGasse says. "Along the way you're running into all these different zombie situations."

In one scene, the character has to escape from zombies by heading to a body of water and swimming for a certain amount of time, as zombies can't swim. In another, the character has to run a certain amount of time to escape a closing horde. With each challenge completed, another chunk of story unlocks.

"You are actually having to feel what the characters are going through on a physical level," Applegate says.

Pandemic

In preparation for his class presentation, Applegate designed the first few pages of an interface and included some elaborate exercise routines. It went well, he says, with several classmates saying they would use such an app.

So Applegate kept at it, and the app continued to take shape over the summer. 

“The more I kind of honed it and polished it up, it was like, 'You know what? I can do this. I’m going to do this. This can happen.' "

As a zombie plague is apt to do, Applegate's idea spread. Students from other SOU departments — theater, computer science, emerging media and digital arts, and athletics — got involved.

"I was thinking, 'Man, this is the only thing that could get me to work out,' " LaGasse says with a chuckle. "I just thought the idea was really great."

Months later, the team project has become an intricate balance of storytelling, programming and health.

"Everything has its own little challenges," says SOU student Jeoffery Puglisi, 29.

Applegate says he hopes to make "Zompocalypse Fitness" live for iOS and Android operating systems by Halloween. Until then, the team soldiers on, one sweat-inducing undead attack at a time.

"It's really moving, and a lot of that has to do with Christopher," LaGasse says. "He's just really motivated and always keeping us motivated. All the pieces are coming together."

 For more information, see www.zompocalypsefit.com.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.