Inmates receive fitness certificates at CSP-Corcoran. Coach Heidi Wippel, shown here with the group, organized the competition.

Inmates receive fitness certificates at CSP-Corcoran. Coach Heidi Wippel, shown here with the group, organized the competition.

By Bernice Van Klaveren, Principal
California State Prison, Corcoran

A recent fitness competition found inmates working together for common rehabilitative goals.

Coach Heidi Wippel had a vision when she took over as the first-ever female coach at CSP-Corcoran. She understood the concept of the inmate population needing activities and programs to learn the value of discipline, structure and competition.

She designed an annual four-day contest in which inmates had the opportunity to show off their fitness.

The competition was based on a point system, where a final champion, Edward, was crowned CSP-Corcoran’s Fittest Man.

The inmate led the contest with stamina, strength, and determination, often shattering times set by his competition, who cheered him on.

At 24 years old, with a high school diploma and a date to transition back to his community, he has a new goal; to earn his National Certification as a Certified Personal Fitness Trainer.

CSP-Corcoran is piloting a program to allow Edward to take a four-month course for national certification to give him a chance at a career.

The Fittest Man Competition was modeled after “The Crossfit Games,” which has become very popular in gyms across the country.

However, the concept was new to the inmates, who do not have access to watch ESPN.

The inmates ran while carrying 50-pound bags; did push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups; and a mix of various other exercises designed to push their limits.

Rival gang members work together

For two of the competitors, this meant more than just some exercises. Brian and Stewart were from rival gangs on the streets, but they have formed a new common bond through fitness and with their gospel musical group called the “Sons of Thunder.”

Stewart is the singer/songwriter and Brian plays piano and sings backup along with about 12 other guys from the yard.

It’s competitions like the fittest man which give these men a chance to work toward something positive.

When asked what message he would send to other youngsters who are seeking shelter in the life of gangs and crime, he said he’d tell them, “Put education first because it will open doors for your future, but remember you can’t do it on your own. Discover who you are before you discover who you want to be.”

Coach Heidi Wippel scores competitors in a fitness competition at CSP-Corcoran.

Coach Heidi Wippel scores competitors in a fitness competition at CSP-Corcoran.