By Valley Adult School physical education staff
Every year from July to August, the dialogue among inmates and staff at California State Prison, Corcoran, revolves around the Fittest Man competition. Meanwhile, the nearby Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison at Corcoran also held their first fitness competition (see separate story below).
Through Visions Adult School, the four-week contest is designed for the most determined, disciplined, and fittest inmates on the yard. There is no sports-network coverage, six-figure payouts, or high-dollar equipment for these athletes. The days of weight piles are long gone since the pendulum swung decades ago to remove them from the yards. However, the men who compete are willing to give everything they have to get a chance to hold the prestigious title of Corcoran prison’s Fittest Man.
The contest involves grueling challenges which include carrying a 70-pound heavy bag, the famous “prison” burpees, pull-ups, chest-ups, muscle-ups, running, squats, sit-ups, and the 250-pound tire flip. There is no shade on the 100-degree-plus yards and for four weeks the participants endure heat and extreme conditions for their own personal challenge and the bragging rights that come with the title.
The competition was designed and started in 2014 by Coach Heidi Wippel who saw the need to build a culture at Corcoran prison where the gyms could be used for their original purpose. A place where the inmates could channel their substance-abuse issues, redirect their anger, improve their self-confidence and social skills, and have an outlet or coping mechanism to deal with the stresses of prison life. All of these benefits are skills they must develop in order to stay out of trouble while they are in prison. Most importantly, exercise and a fitness routine will help keep them from coming back to prison.
Coach Wippel has seen the effect of a quality recreation program and has worked hard to collaborate with mental health, custody, and administration to foster an environment that promotes respect among staff and the population they serve. Competitions such as the fittest man are one of the rare moments where men from different races, backgrounds, and religions can interact outside traditional prison politics to move beyond the norm and embrace the challenge of becoming the best they can be.
First SATF fitness contest was in top form
A separate contest was held over two days at Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison at Corcoran’s Facility G. According to Lieutenant Kevin Huffman, the first Fittest Person contest for Facility G went as planned.
“The competition consisted of a series of challenges that included long distance running with sand bags, pull-ups, sit-ups and ending with a large tire flip and roll. (They also had to) climb through the mud,” Huffman said.
Two inmates who were confined to their wheelchairs, and an inmate who is a right-leg amputee, showed determination, he said.
“Facility F/G Captain A. Baer and inmate Konnerth worked together to put this competition in place and could not be happier with the ending result,” he said. “A special thanks to those inmates who assisted inmate Konnerth, allowing this competition to run smoothly.”