Project Name: Running Free Alaska – Highland Mountain Correctional Center
Project Cost: $3,150
Cost Per Client: $75
The mission of Running Free Alaska (RFA) is to make a positive difference in the lives of Alaska’s prison inmates through a structured running program. Wholly funded through grants, private donations and the generosity of local businesses, and designed and supported by volunteer coaches and professional Alaskan athletes (at no cost to or effort by the State of Alaska or the Department of Corrections), inmates in good standing and of all athletic abilities participate in a personalized, ongoing running program with the ultimate goal of completing races ranging from 5 kilometers to marathon length (26.2 miles). It is our belief and experience that running serves a catalyst to encourage, restore and unify participating inmates.
RFA was conceived by Anchorage amateur marathoner Tim Alderson as a research project for his Masters in Psychology from Alaska Pacific University. Using a model from a prison in Kansas (profiled in Runner’s World magazine;) 25 Hiland inmates participated in a research study that culminated in the first ever Hiland Mountain 5K. Several luminaries from the Anchorage running and triathlon scene supplemented the training sessions with their expertise, including: Lisa Keller, Shannon Donley, Rikki Keen, Ellyn Brown, and Nora Miller.
The 12-week study ended triumphantly with a race day that saw 21 out of 25 runners complete the 5K, with an average improvement in their 5K time of 5:01 minutes. Based on these successful results, RFA has formed a Board of Directors, become incorporated, and has applied for 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (current status: pending) in order to expand on the this project. RFA is believed to be only the second program of its kind in the country.
The results of the pilot project cannot solely be measured by the runners completing a 5K race or bettering their 5K time over 12 weeks. The ultimate results were seen in the 90% attendance rates to the three times weekly training sessions; in the 46+ lbs. of combined weight loss amid the women; in the 21% increase in psychological, physical, social and environmental health (based on WHOQOL-BREF, an assessment tool developed by the World Health Organization); in the newly-established camaraderie between the “teammates”; and in the 42 inmates already in training for the second session, which began July 13, 2012.
The goals and objectives of the RFA project are to provide women inmates with a structured training program, running shoes, and quarterly races (hence goals) within the walls of the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, which will better their physical and psychological health, lower rates of obesity (thus lower their risk for many types of cancer, including breast), and have a positive impact on their attitudes about their environment and fellow inmates.
The activities the organization will undertake to meet the objectives are continuing to work with RFA Board members and volunteers to raise funds for runner shoes and provide adequate volunteers for on-site trainers at each of the three times weekly structured training sessions. The expected results or impact of the project are continued high attendance and commitment by inmate runners, continued weight-loss and increases in physical and psychological health among those in the program, and continued community support for the program (by way of volunteering and financial support).
The tools that will be used to monitor and measure the results or impact of the project are meticulously-maintained records on which inmates are enrolled and maintaining 90% attendance to the three times weekly training sessions, as well as before and after runner interviews regarding physical and psychological health and attitude.
Tim Alderson is maintaining candid communication with the State of Alaska Department of Corrections in regards to runners, volunteers and the program, as well as co-directing the actual training program along with Lisa Keller, RFA Vice Chair and training program designer.
The role of volunteers will be to attend and co-direct the three times weekly training sessions within the walls of Hiland Mountain Correctional Center and work directly with the inmates on their running and overall fitness. Intermittent visits and talks by (volunteer) Alaskan athletes and nutrition specialists will also occur.
The role of collaborating partners include Skinny Raven providing customized running shoes for each runner at wholesale cost. (This is where the $75 per pair of shoes for each runner comes in; the running shoes actually retail for $125-150, but Skinny Raven eats the remaining cost.)