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WATCH: “Vision Runner” to run the length of Iowa in honor of staff killed at Anamosa State Penitentiary

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(KWWL) -- Ryan Miller of Manchester is training for his longest run yet. Just a few days in to June, he'll take off from Sioux City to run 339 miles in 9 days until he reaches Dubuque.

"You don't see people running across the state of Iowa everyday," Miller said as we met at a track near the Manchester high school.

The purpose of our interview wasn't to just show off an outrageous goal but to focus instead on why he'll run 339 miles across the state. What's his reason? To honor 2 lives lost.

It's been nearly 2 months since two staff members at the Anamosa State Penitentiary were killed in an attack by two inmates.

Correctional Officer Robert McFarland and Lorena Schulte, a nurse at the prison, both died when two inmates assaulted them as they tried to escape.

Miller, who started his career as a correctional officer with McFarland, said the attack and their deaths left him with a surreal feeling.

“You don't expect that. It puts your own personal life into perspective," Miller said.

Miller said he started with McFarland on the same shift 6 years ago and describes the late father as someone you would want to work with.

“He cared about his job, he cared about his fellow staff. He cared about the incarcerated individuals,” Miller said. “He knew all the policy and procedures and he knew the right way. He was a guy you could ask a question and he'd help you out and lead you the right way.”

McFarland was a positive, upbeat influence in an environment that often is the opposite. Miller believes personalities like that give coworkers a reason to push forward during hard times.

McFarland's family is still reeling from their loss, saying in a statement, they "will never understand it and it will never make sense." To deal with their grief, they look to honoring Robert and raising awareness for those who work in the Iowa's Dept. of Corrections.

Robert, like most of his co-workers, didn’t become a Correctional Officer for the money, or the benefits. He truly wanted to help the inmates. The same proud, helpful, and caring man that was a correctional officer at the Anamosa State Penitentiary was the exact same man at home as a husband, father, friend and volunteer firefighter. He loved his wife, his sons and all his family and friends.

Excerpt from McFarland family statement

You can read their full statement below.

For Miller, a tough problem, like how to honor a fallen coworker, requires a solution that's common to him.

Running.

"I never thought I'd be a runner," he says. "I think everyone should try something difficult."

His route next month will take him through various cities and towns, including Waterloo and Independence, where he believe he'll see a large turnout of support.

While we ran a bit, I asked Ryan if he thought Robert or Lorena would be on his mind.

“On the days where I say 'oh, I don't want to run.' I think about how blessed I am to have the opportunity to run. A lot of people don't. So absolutely, it's a motivation. It's a thing that kind of pushes you forward," Miller said.

His goal is to raise $20,000 through a Gofundme for the McFarland family to potentially take a family vacation.

“I wanted to build something that's really positive for the family, something where they can go and bond together. Go anywhere in the world they want!" Miller said.

Miller's website, Vision Runner, lists the details for the Gofundme page, his route, and his story for why he runs.

He hope his story can inspire us all to live while we can and don't shy from something just because it seems too difficult.

The full statement from the McFarland family is as follows:

"Robert’s family is still struggling with the senseless tragedy that happened on March 23, 2021. We will never understand it and it will never make sense. So instead we try to focus on honoring Robert and doing everything we can to make sure another tragedy like this does not happen to the brave men and women of the Department of Corrections who continue to protect our communities. 

Robert, like most of his co-workers, didn’t become a Correctional Officer for the money, or the benefits. He truly wanted to help the inmates. The same proud, helpful, and caring man that was a correctional officer at the Anamosa State Penitentiary was the exact same man at home as a husband, father, friend and volunteer firefighter. He loved his wife, his sons and all his family and friends.

Robert’s family is very thankful Ryan has chosen to help honor Robert and Lorena Schulte, who also lost her life alongside Robert on that terrible day.  We hope Ryan’s “Run Across Iowa” helps bring awareness to the hard work and dedication of all the members of the Department of Corrections."

Family of Officer Robert McFarland

Author Profile Photo

Taylor Vessel

Multimedia Reporter

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