As runners crossed the finish line at the second annual Fun Run in Utqiaġvik, they were doused in colorful powder to celebrate. - John Bergman

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Color Run builds health awareness

August 11th, 2017 | Shady Grove Oliver, The Arctic Sounder Print this article   Email this article  

For the second year in a row, Utqiaġvik has taken a colorful approach to building community health awareness.

"We're one big community. Even though we're all different around here, we all do our own things, there are opportunities where we can come together and do something together as a community," said health educator DeShaun Whiskey. "We're all here in this place together, so we can do and have fun together without any negativity going on."

The annual color run-style Barrow Fun Run, which was held Aug. 5, organized by the North Slope Borough's Prevention Program and supported by volunteers and local sponsors, aimed to bring people together in the name of physical and mental wellness.

"It originally started as an intern project but then it kind of grew to our program and it turned out to be much bigger than we thought," explained Asisaun Toovak, project manager with the public health team. "Last year, we predicted we'd get maybe 75 or 100 people because that's about how many we get on a Walking Wednesday. The next thing you know, 200 people showed up last year and it was so much fun. Everyone enjoyed it."

For the last several weeks, organizers have been collecting supplies, soliciting donations, and building their color stashes in advance of the event.

"The community knew we were going to have the color run, so there were a lot of people that every time they finished a water bottle, they gave us the water bottle, we air dried them, poured the chalk into the bottles, and then cut a hole through it, and that's how we poured the color on the runners coming through," said Toovak.

This year's course was a 2.5-mile loop around town. Participants were encouraged to run or walk, as they were able. Like last year, the number of people who showed up to get a move on went above expectations.

"This year we had 220 people show up," Toovak said.

Each participant had to pay a $10 entry fee. A handful of organizations made donations to supplement the fee, and all of the money, totaling more than $3,000, will go toward the Iḷisaġvik Foundation, Toovak said.

Last year's funding went to supporting the Piuraagvik Gym expansion project.

"My grant is for alcohol abuse prevention, and so with that I try to use some of the funds my grant gives me to put on some activities [like this one] in the community that focus on community involvement or activities that can promote healthy lifestyles," Whiskey said. "The main purpose of our coalition is to help reduce the alcohol abuse that happens in our community for ages 15-30. From the data we've collected, within that age group the most alcohol-related crimes end up happening here in Utqiagvik, like public intoxication or DUIs and things like that, so that's why we gear our focus towardsthat age group."

The gym is a public space that promotes physical wellness and well-being, Whiskey explained, while the Iḷisaġvik Foundation is geared more toward mental wellness through education and community projects. Both are protective factors within the community, though.

Protective factors are activities or people or parts of life that bring people to a more positive and healthy place and away from risky behaviors and factors, like alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Everything from family to whaling to culture to basketball and education can be a protective factor for a person.

That's one of the ways the Fun Run serves a dual purpose, Whiskey said. Not only does it raise money to support healthy activities, it is one itself.

"People are here going through their day-to-day going to work, going to the gym, doing things with their kids, but activities that we have like this help get the community together. Even if we're not able to see each other every day, it's an opportunity to get out and get to know new people or see old people they haven't seen in a while and it kind of gives an opportunity for our community to do something different and new and be together," said Whiskey. "It helps with all aspects of prevention because we're doing something that's positive, showing a different outlet. People might be depressed or stressed out, and this is an opportunity to let loose, do something different, do something creative."

That's one of Toovak's favorite parts of the color run, she said. She enjoys watching her community come together around a positive and healthy experience. She hopes they'll keep that feeling in mind long after the run ends, so they can start building healthy habits at home, as well.

"I want them to take away the joy of regular exercise and activity and that it's so good for you mentally, physically, and even socially," she said. "[It's positive] having to walk with your friends and your family and your children and setting a good example for your children and just being able to take away and remember how good it felt after that two-and-a-half miles and how good it felt to just be with other people."

For Whiskey, seeing people he's known his whole life having an afternoon of colorful fun is a great payoff after weeks of preparation.

"Looking at all the little kids and all the people smiling, laughing, and having fun, it puts a smile on my face to know our program, and what we do impacts, people in a way that we can actually see a smile on their faces," he said.

Shady Grove Oliver can be reached at


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