Randal HicksProvided Photo

Randal Hicks, 81, from Broken Bow, Okla., participated in the Sardis Dam 5k. During the event, he stumbled and fell, but the only thing he was worried about was completing the race. Once cleared by medical staff, Hicks went on to finish the race, placing third in his age group.

PACE Program benefits both tribal and non-Tribal community

By Chris Jennings
September 1, 2021

For 10 years, the Choctaw Nation PACE Program has been helping tribal and non-tribal members take steps to a healthier lifestyle.

The PACE Program pays the entry fees for approved running and walking races, with the only requirement for membership being that you live within the Choctaw Nation. Those 70 and above can join the program even if they live outside of the boundaries of the Choctaw Nation.
The goal of PACE when it began was to promote a healthy lifestyle. Doris Winlock, Healthy Lifestyle Coordinator with the Choctaw Nation, said, “They wanted to develop a program to help promote physical activity in the community.”

One of the easiest ways to begin a journey to better health and regular exercise is to start walking. While PACE events are all mainly billed as running events, walking is common in them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of all adults (48%) get enough aerobic physical activity to improve their health. Walking is the most popular physical activity, with about 6 in 10 adults walking at least 10 minutes the previous week.

“Hey, you got to start out walking. We can’t just get out there start running. So, we definitely promote walking as well as running,” said Winlock. It’s taking the next step, though, where the PACE Program can help—that step of going from walking the dog to walking a mile in an event. Often, being surrounded by like-minded people with the same goals will inspire someone to do better.

This encouragement and willingness to help is part of what being Choctaw is all about. “I truly believe that Choctaw Nation looks at this community as a family; we’re all in this together, we definitely want to help one another,” said Winlock.

Part of the guidelines to be a PACE member is to participate in at least one event every six months from your sign-on date. That was a hard goal to meet during the pandemic. The program continued, though, using virtual events to encourage people to get outside and complete their distances on their own.

The feedback on the virtual events was good, but some people still found it hard to complete them without the encouragement they received at an in-person event. As things begin to shift back to being virtual, Winlock encourages people to continue to participate.

Virtual events are more convenient in that you have three days to complete them, and they can be done anywhere, such as a track, treadmill, park or zig-zagging through your neighborhood.
When you finish your virtual event, you can send photos or videos to [email protected] for a chance to be shared on PACE social media.

A quick glance at past PACE event photos shows a wide variety of participants, from the young to the more experienced. Randal Hicks, 81, received a doctor’s okay to take part in PACE events in 2015. Since then, he has completed at least 75 events, with 21 of these being in one year.

Hicks, a lifetime runner, says he likes to feel the wind blowing on him as he runs, but nowadays, he does it for health reasons. “I figure if I run a little and work out a little, it’ll keep me going,” said Hicks.

Hicks tells his wife his goal is to finish every race he starts. “I wouldn’t say I was going to crawl across the finish line, but I want to finish every race I start,” Hicks said with a chuckle. When it comes to long-term health, goals are important.

One way to ensure you meet a smaller goal, such as participating in one event, is to create a larger goal that requires completing smaller goals. That’s where the Runners Choice Challenge comes in.

The Runner’s Choice Challenge is a 10-run challenge where PACE members must complete 10 events a year. With PACE covering the registration costs of the event, all you have to do is show up. One way to get motivated and keep that motivation for a larger goal, such as the 10-run challenge, is to encourage your friends and family members to complete the challenge with you.
There have been several instances where the program has helped tribal members and their friends and family take part in events where they would not have otherwise been able to participate together. Winlock mentioned a family of five who, thanks to the virtual events, is now able to make the races a fun event for the whole family.

“It was difficult for them to participate in events together [because of the cost]. So they would split their family up in one event. Half of their family would be the cheering squad, as the other half was participating. Now with the PACE program, they are able to participate as a family, so they’re able to all sign up for an event, and nobody has to sit on the sidelines,” said Winlock.

Now, with over 2000 members actively taking part in events, the Choctaw Nation and the PACE Program have taken steps to improve the health of not just tribal members but the whole community within the Choctaw Nation.

If you know of an event that you would like to be included in the approved events list, you can urge them to apply to be part of the PACE Program. Applications to apply for the 2022 PACE schedule will be available online, September 1, 2021. Please visit choctawnation.com/services/pace for more information on the PACE Program.


Provided Photo

Billy Jones of Broken Bow, Okla., participated in the Sardis Dam 5k in June 2021. Billy has enjoyed running for 23 years, but this time was different. This year, Billy ran in honor of his late wife, Marcella, who passed away from COVID-19 in June 2020.