Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Homeless Runners

Here is an interesting and inspiring article from The Associated Press.

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Homeless Runners Turning Lives Around

The Associated Press
Sunday, December 3, 2006; 2:33 PM

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Rebecca Kelly used to run from her problems. Now, she runs in an effort to solve them. Kelly took her first drink at 14, soon entering the first of what would be many rehabilitation stints. She's been forced to live on the streets, once got kicked in the face by a male attacker, been completely broke more times than she cares to remember.

Now, the 31-year-old is part of a most unusual athletic club called The Home Team, a group of homeless people trying to turn their lives around through running. Three of their members finished 13.1 miles Sunday morning at the Marathon of the Palm Beaches in downtown West Palm Beach.

"It felt better. Absolutely better than I thought it would feel," Kelly said. "It wasn't even the moment crossing the line. It was just knowing that I was going to finish when I got to 10, 11 miles, knowing 'Hey, I trained for this. I deserve to feel good.' It was better than any drug I've ever done."

That's kind of the idea.

The concept _ taking people who are living in shelters and showing them how the discipline needed to become a marathon runner can apply to their regular lives _ is an unusual one. The Home Team's members all have jobs and are in rehab programs, vowing to stay clean and trying to get on their feet.

Each runner was approached a few months ago and asked if they wanted to begin training. Most immediately said yes.

"They had some Hawaiian Tropic girls at one of the water stations. I wasn't feeling any pain going to touch her hand," said Doug Scheer, 35, who's struggled with addictions to alcohol and painkillers and now lives in a tiny room at a shelter. "This is the most fun I've ever had."

Brent Ion felt the same way.

He's a longtime runner, a financial consultant involved in philanthropic projects with his wife, Suzanne. He usually spends part of each Wednesday at a place called Cafe Joshua, a restaurant unlike most others.

Homeless or shelter-dwelling individuals often meet there to eat, and they can receive job coaching, medical exams, even haircuts there. It has become an epicenter of sorts for The Home Team's program, and is where Ion sought out potential club members.

"I look at the best sellers list and half the time it's people trying to find religion and trying to find the meaning of life," Ion said. "This is it. This is where it's at. All the religions and all the things you can shoot for on a philosophical basis, it's all right here. It all ends up in the same place, helping people who need a hand."

Sponsors donated running attire and shoes to the team members, who often rose at 5 a.m. on Sundays for long training runs.

Johnathan Czerwinski, 26, doesn't hide that he hated those early wake-up calls.

He also doesn't hide the scars on both wrists, evidence of past failed suicide attempts that he was driven to because he couldn't shake his drug craving.

"Being part of this, I've got goals now," said Czerwinski, whose girlfriend gave birth to their first son three weeks ago. "I want to get a car. I want to get an apartment. This has taught me that everything comes step by step, not all at once. It's all a process."

Czerwinski finished 802nd in the men's half-marathon, crossing the line in 2 hours, 28 minutes, 58 seconds.

"He's changed now," said his girlfriend, Caitlin Aleskovsky, 20. "He has a sense of direction _ the right direction, for once."

The sun was just beginning to rise when the starter's gun fired at 6:30 a.m., but conditions _ 76 degrees, with the humidity making it feel a few degrees hotter _ were already brutal for the field of about 6,000 competitors.

Some couldn't finish. But none of The Home Team's three half-marathon entrants dropped out, drawing high praise from some of the elite runners in the field.

"It's phenomenal," said Bea Marie Altieri of Clermont, Fla., who was third in the women's half-marathon, 722 spots ahead of Kelly. "Running has the endorphins, that natural high. So for people who are a little down on their luck or have an addiction like alcohol or drugs or whatever, running is a perfect fit because it gives them a real goal."

And from that goal comes another endeavor _ running the whole marathon next year, something all three would like to do.

"I've always known, even when things were bad, that I'm a strong person," Kelly said. "This has just made me strive a little bit harder."

© 2006 The Associated Press


Olga said...

Very cool article!

Bob Gentile said...

GREAT POST Lisa B ....

THANKS For Sharing I bookmarked the story under my Inspirational Stories!!