From the yard inside San Quentin State Prison, Chris Schuhmacher used to look up over the walls at Mt. Tam, thinking one day I’m going to get there. Now on parole, he’s arrived and he continues using the two things that got him through his bid—running and computer coding.
“Chris exemplifies the spirit, drive and determination of someone who wants to succeed and set an example for others,” Beverly Parenti, co-founder of the Code.7370 coding program at San Quentin, said.
Schuhmacher works as a software engineer for Fandom, a company that is like a Wikipedia for media, entertainment, music and video game content.
His journey to become a software engineer started in prison with exercise and an entrepreneurship program called The Last Mile.
While in The Last Mile program founded by Chris Redlitz and Parenti, Schuhmacher came up with an app concept that would help people use exercise to overcome their addiction to drugs and alcohol. He named it Fitness Monkey.
“Exercise produces the same hormones and endorphins in the brain that drugs and alcohol do,” Schuhmacher said. “So it was really logical for me to develop an app around providing people with exercise and workout programs as an alternative to drugs and alcohol.”
The app is designed to track how long a person stays sober down to the minutes and seconds. It will also act as a fitness tracker and a social media support system for a community of recovering addicts, said Schuhmacher.
The concept for Fitness Monkey came from Schuhmacher’s own life.
He struggled with addiction in society and ended up incarcerated over a drug-related crime for 17 years.
In prison, he cleaned up, took yoga and played tennis. To become a better tennis player, he started running with the 1000 Mile Club.
“It was through the 1000 Mile Club that I found I had a love for running and not just hitting a tennis ball around,” Schuhmacher said. “I ran my first marathon in 2011.”
He ran on Monday nights with the club sponsored by members of the Tamalpais Runners Club including the former president Frank Ruona, along with Kevin Rumon and Diana Fitzpatrick.
He could see Mt. Tam by looking over the walls on the yard while running with fellow club members.
The 1000 Mile Club gave him a sense of camaraderie. He ran with John Levin and Tommy Wickerd on Saturdays.
“As close as we were in confined quarters and really getting to know people on a human level, I don’t think I’ll ever have that kind of solidarity amongst other people,” Schuhmacher said.
Schuhmacher remembered his Fitness Monkey concept when The Last Mile program evolved into the coding program Code.7370. There he learned how to build his app.
He also met the Fandom team when they came to the Code.7370 graduations.
“When I got out, I reached out to them, and they set me up for an interview,” Schuhmacher said. “They started me with an internship that turned into a full-time job in January.”
Schuhmacher said he’s also working with developers at Santa Clara University’s furlough innovation hub to build the Fitness Monkey app.
Schuhmacher said he talked Fitness Monkey with Lance Armstrong on Armstrong’s new podcast called Forward.
They also talked about taking accountability.
“I think we all fall down sometimes, and we all make mistakes and sometimes we don’t deal with it in the best of ways,” Schuhmacher said. “It’s really about trying to take ownership of it, be responsible, make amends. And I don’t think it’s so much about forgiveness, but it’s about moving forward and just trying to be better than you were the day before.”
Schuhmacher continues to run in solidarity with the 1000 Mile Club.
“The 1000 Mile Club and all the volunteers’ support and encouragement didn’t end at the gate,” Schuhmacher said. “They signed me up for a Dipsea Race in Marin.”
The annual Dipsea Race takes place on a course running through the woods and up and down hills of Mt. Tam. Schuhmacher ran the race last year.
Coach Fitzpatrick has won the race twice.
“They talked about that race for years while we were on the inside,” Schuhmacher said.
Through an email list, Schuhmacher gets updates on all the 1000 Mile races in San Quentin.
“When I hear about those events, I do my own event on the outside,” Schuhmacher said. “When they were doing the New Year’s Day half-marathon, I got a couple of buddies and we did a half-marathon in solidarity with the guys at San Quentin. I tell everyone I can about the positive stuff that those guys are doing. It’s really important to me. I never want to lose that connection.”