Walking 5-kilometers — 3.1 miles — was not a possibility nearly two decades ago for Rhonda Kiefer.
Kiefer had just started as a dispatcher for the Kodiak Police Department and weighed 374 pounds — the heaviest she had ever been. Her diet consisted of a steady stream of fast food and processed foods. Her weight and eating habits were not an ideal combination for her knees.
“When I walked, my legs would give out,” Kiefer said. “Thankfully, I would grab something and not fall.”
She was forced to stop playing softball and bowling, two sports she was — and still is — fond of.
Five knee surgeries later, coupled with a significant lifestyle change, has Kiefer eyeing her first 5K — the 2020 Law Enforcement Torch Run and Pledge Drive for Special Olympics Alaska. The virtual 5K starts Saturday and ends July 25.
Kiefer plans on walking the 5K at 11:30 a.m. on July 22 at Joe Floyd Track and Field.
“I am at the healthiest I have been in a long time, and my legs are getting stronger,” Kiefer wrote in a Facebook post. “Doing this 5K walk means a lot to me, and for the people I work with.”
The 12.5 laps around the rubber track at Baranof Park will represent Kiefer's journey.
Kiefer, who moved to The Rock in 1983, has trimmed down to 220 pounds, shedding nearly 100 pounds in the past three years.
After having gastric bypass surgery, Kiefer hovered around 200 pounds, but after five knee surgeries — the last in 2011 — she had trouble moving around, and the weight packed back on.
That was the breaking point.
“I told myself I would never go back to 300 pounds,” Kiefer said. “When I weighed myself, I was at 296, but the gym scale weighed me heavier, so I was over 300.”
She found her saving grace in personal trainer Tracy Chandler, owner of A Balanced Approach in Kodiak. Chandler set Kiefer up for success, designing nutrition and exercise plans. Kiefer stuck to it, ditching processed foods, working out at least three times a week and walking daily.
It was trying at first but has gotten easier.
“I’m confident to go into a class now,” Kiefer said. “It is kind of hard when you have all these nice thin people in class, but the class has welcomed me. That gym has been my family and one of my biggest cheerleaders.
Chandler said Kiefer’s confidence grew as the numbers on the scale dipped.
“The biggest thing that I have seen that has changed her was her mindset. Once she believed she could do it, everything changed,” Chandler said. “She is the most motivated person that I have ever met and tries harder than anyone I have ever met.”
Now, 57, Kiefer has returned to bowling, a sport that is in the family bloodlines. She also has started hiking, which included trekking around Yosemite National Park in 2019. Her blood pressure is down and her knee pain has subsided.
“My grocery bill is a little higher, but it is all healthy food now,” Kiefer said.
Kiefer doesn’t have a goal for the 5K virtual event; she simply wants to finish. She will be walking with friends from the police department and A Balanced Approach.
“I wanted to do it and I wanted to have as much support around me to get me through it,” Kiefer said.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run and Pledge Drive for Special Olympics Alaska has turned into a virtual weeklong event.
Participants create their own 5-kilometer course — or do a suggested course — and are encouraged to post photos on the 2020 Virtual Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Facebook group.
To register for the free event or make a pledge, visit the Kodiak Police Department today (4 to 6 p.m.) Saturday (9 to 11 a.m.) and July 25 (9 to 11 a.m.). People can also register and pledge online at specialolympicsalaska.org.
Athletes and participants who post a photo will be entered into a daily drawing for a prize. A separate drawing will be held for those who complete a 5K every day of the challenge.
The law Enforcement Torch Run started in 1981 in Wichita, Kansas. It is now a national event and will take place in 16 Alaska communities.
“Our goal is to create awareness and support for Special Olympics,” Kodiak organizer Tracy Parker said. “Hopefully, next year, we can return to normal and do it in person.”
The event begins with an opening ceremony streamed on the Special Olympics Alaska Facebook page at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
“The run is expected to be the largest multi-community running experience held in Alaska this year, with a goal of raising $130,000 for Special Olympics Alaska communities,” a Special Olympics Alaska press release said. “These critical funds stay in the community they are raised.”