In 1978, Heather Alberts launched the New Frontiers Program, an educational sex equity program funded by the Arizona Department of Education. New Frontiers provided positive educational programs to encourage non-traditional career exploration. Included were the then very innovative 'Family Math and Science' programs and 'Expanding your Horizons', for young women, and others.
The women's movement was at its height. The Tucson Women's Commission had been founded just two years before and Title IX of the 1972 Higher Education Acts Ì± after years of resistance by men's athletics Ì± was now the law of the land. Many of the myriad programs and institutions that were created in that decade foundered in the next. But New Frontiers persisted and for twenty years was a model of an equity program that made a difference in an educational system.
In 1998, Heather Alberts founded another program, 'Better than Ever' dedicated to preserving women's health and fitness while raising money for the Arizona Cancer Center. The principle on which it is based is that older women owe it to themselves to get fit and keep fit. 'Better than Ever' aims to get participants to the point where they can walk a half marathon while raising money for the Center. In six years, 2,300 participants have completed the half marathon and raised $1,200,000 to support research on women's cancers at the Arizona Center.
Well done Heather Alberts. Welcome to the Plaza of Honor.
Sheila Tobias, January 2006
Heather Alberts developed the 'New Frontiers' program which reached from Tucson to Phoenix and to Flagstaff. The program began with a small grant of $25,000 in 1978 and ended in 1999 - one of the longest continuing equity programs in the country. New Frontiers is a sex equity program that offers a summer program for young women in junior high to instill values of equity while they're young. She still cares about 'the issues of supporting young women and eliminating sex-role stereotyping.' Alberts ran the successful program for 22 years before retiring and eventually starting 'Better Than Ever.'
When Heather Alberts turned forty she decided, with a gentle tug out of bed, that she wanted to feel and be healthier. Alberts, mother of two, began to participate in outdoor activities including jogging, biking and hiking. She enjoyed it so much she decided that all older women should begin to get healthy again by partaking in such activities. She was convinced that there are several reasons that older women have issues with fitness because there is an ideal image of youth and appearance that is hard to live up to. For women over 40, becoming healthy is
'Tied in with so many of the images of fitness: thinness, lose weight, work hard in a gym, and try desperately to recapture your youth å¬because ÌÇyouth is everything' in our culture. And then when you add the overlay of cultural messages for women: being beautiful is all there is -and ÌÇthinness' and youth can only define beauty.'
Although she struggled with these images of fitness, she appreciated the sense of joy and boost of self esteem that she received from outdoor activities.
It began with ÌÇgentle jogging' when her husband pulled her out of bed on a Sunday morning, lovingly telling her that her body was aging and 'everything was dropping.' This helped to reactivate the physical side of her life. It took her a year to run a mile consistently but to her it's not about being the fastest. As she kept it up, she realized that her outdoor activities made her feel better than she ever had when she was younger. This inspired her to create a program to 'encourage people to get healthy and fit doing outdoor activities to start feeling better as they grow older.' 'Better Than Ever' was established in 1998.
The first year, the program had a total of 6 participants, each of which were successful in 'reactivating their physical lives.' The next year she took her own activity a little further. On December 3, 1999, Alberts participated in her first half-marathon (13.1 miles). With the support of her husband and after training on her own, she completed the race in three hours. Having experienced such satisfaction, she had her first Chanukah party in 20 years and served forty people, including her first two grandchildren. After finishing this feat, all seemed 'possible.' She ran her first full marathon in March of 2000 in Los Angeles in the pouring rain. At age 59, she finished in seven hours and four minutes.
In May of 2000, during dinner with her husband and his cancer prevention team, she decided to create a program for people to 'walk the talk of cancer prevention.' She presented her idea to the Cancer Center in August and, upon approval, began to work with her Events Coordinator Joyce Stavro on giving presentations to groups at the Cancer Center. Although just hoping for at least ten participants for the first Arizona Cancer Center's 'Better Than Ever' program, they had 45 participants and raised $24,500 during the half-marathon for the women's cancer prevention program. The next year the event was dedicated to the memory of Bobbi Olsen, the wife of Coach Lute Olsen, who died in January 2001 of ovarian cancer. The Bobbi and Lute Olsen Half-Marathon had 500 participants and raised $278,000 for the Bobby Olson Endowment Fund. 'This was the most money that had ever been raised in an event for the Cancer Center.' Among the participants was Lute Olson along with his five children, five grandchildren and over 200 employees from Gadabout Salons.
Born on February 11, 1941, Heather Alberts has been a hero to women and youth who want to empower their peers and absolve sex-role typecasting in the workplace. She is a success story for those who need inspiration to get healthy again and to age well. Alberts is still running marathons, half-marathons and fighting the stereotypes that come with being a woman.