Community “I AM UAA”: Skinny Raven Sports
by Tracy Kalytiak |
Stinging sweat trickled into my eyes as I slowly loped away from the Chester Creek Trail. Twelve and a half miles of Skinny Raven's latest half marathon were done; one stretch of hot asphalt unfurled between me and an icy mimosa on the Park Strip.
I felt joy seeing the huge inflated finish-line arch in the distance, spanning N. Street, then despair as I approached the monstrous hill I'd have to climb to reach it.
Suddenly, a smiling woman materialized next to me. She looked familiar. Then it struck me: This is Hallidie Wilt! Why is this elite runner here? Why is this UAA cross country alum (who had just taken second place in the event's quarter marathon!) running with the likes of me?
"Look up ahead, keep your arms moving," Wilt encouraged. Somehow, my weary legs miraculously found one last reserve of energy and complied. "The finish line is at the second arch. You're doing great!" As we finally topped that hill, Wilt smiled as I thanked her. Then, she hurried to help others struggling up the rise.
Mutually beneficial connections
Wilt looked familiar because I'd seen her countless times at Skinny Raven Sports, the store at the corner of H Street and W. 8th Avenue that serves as a community hub for runners and has become a haven for current and former Seawolf runners. It cultivates new runners by helping kids and non-runners access the sport, and creates events that motivate and engage existing runners and athletes.
It's where another UAA cross country alumnus, Todd List, introduced me to running in one of Skinny Raven's Couch-to-5K training groups. The store's "Skinny Mini" location on Dimond Boulevard is where UAA nursing student (and star Alaska marathoner) Jerry Ross fitted my child with the perfect pair of running shoes she needed for her cross country races.
Numerous UAA alumni runners-among them, Ivy O'Guinn, Andrew Ritchie, Susan Bick-and other UAA alumni like Reidun Todd and Whitney Bennett, help customers find shoes, apparel and other gear and orchestrate the intricate details associated with the races Skinny Raven either hosts or provides timing services for.
Emma Bohman, however, who frequently appears in the business' social media and other marketing endeavors, might just be the most recognized of those familiar faces. Bohman, 26, a physical education major, ran on UAA's cross country team from 2007-2010, works at Skinny Mini and now coaches a Skinny Raven training group focused on women who want to get fit for racing in a half marathon.
Anchorage's first specialty running and fitness store first opened in an old 2,500-square-foot drive-up bank building in 1994. It now encompasses 5,000 square feet and includes another store, Her Tern. Skinny Raven has a silent owner; the company's president, Daniel Greenhalgh, and longtime running coach John "JC" Clark (its "prime minister of purchasing") began working for Skinny Raven in 1996. The ties between UAA and Skinny Raven have been forming ever since.
"A lot of it I'd say comes from the [race] timing, with the races UAA puts on-the Mayor's Midnight Sun marathon and half marathon-and the Heart Run that partners with Providence on the campus there," Bohman said.
Skinny Raven's own races, pub runs and urban challenges now span the calendar-motivating prospective runners, expanding social opportunities in Anchorage, connecting runners with downtown businesses, and creating ways to publicize the efforts of businesses like Bear Tooth Theatre Pub, McGinley's, Orthopedic Physicians Alaska and many others. The races include Valentine's Chocolate Run, Shamrock Shuffle, the kid-friendly Superhero Showdown, Twilight 12K and Skinny Mini 6K, Her Tern half and quarter marathons, Frightening 4K, Turkey Trot and, launched last year at the Alaska Airlines Center, its new Northern Lights Resolution Run.
Creating a community
Those events created loyal customers for Skinny Raven. UAA track and field has an established sponsorship with them that enables them to purchase shoes for their athletes. "Athletes need to replace their shoes four or five times a year and Skinny Raven has been very helpful," Friess said. "Their partnership with UAA allowed us to more readily afford that."
It seemed natural for Bohman, in March 2011, to transition from being a senior-year university athlete wearing Skinny Raven shoes to being a Skinny Raven employee helping the next cycle of UAA athletes find running footwear.
"One of the large interactions is the fact that a lot of the UAA students that are now employees, they've had a running history," Bohman said. "They just have an affinity toward running that gives them a really good background as they come into the store-sharing experiences with shoes, experience with injuries and how to overcome them. It just makes a really good connection, an educated individual who communicates really well with people. What's cool for me is, I feel like I have a connection still with the team."
Skinny Raven rented the Alaska Airlines Center on New Year's Eve for its inaugural Northern Lights Resolution Run and welcomed people inside for a party afterward. The business helped pay for an AlterG anti-gravity treadmill UAA athletes use for training and rehabilitation, John Clark said, and the AAC's running track bears the name "Raven's Nest."
"It's been a good partnership," Friess said. "I've known Skinny Raven since day one when they opened. We've had a very good collaborative relationship with them, whether it's working on Mayor's [Marathon] or the sponsorship for the AlterG, a very valuable piece of equipment." Skinny Raven shouldered $50,000 of the treadmill's $75,000 cost.
The business' choice to employ UAA running alumni makes sense, Friess said.
"That's good in a way, in terms of a healthy body, healthy image, very community oriented, and those are the types of individuals we get in our program," he said. "Skinny Raven is involved in the community, helpful in the community. They're not greedy-they give back."
Written by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement