Yes, I need help to get Back on My Feet again, but won’t you (run) a Mile in My Shoes first?

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(This is a cross post from my fundracing page.) Sorry for the gross picture. Just imagine how it felt! So…let me explain. I’ve mentioned before how grateful I am to have been part of several amazing running communities in the past since I started running as an obese 250+ pounder in 2009. The first such community was Back On My Feet (BOMF). I found BOMF, or BOMF found me, at just the right time. It was winter 2011 and we had been in Dallas (D/FW is where I’m from) for about a year, going through the by then slow, painful process of watching my Dad die. I was finishing up a very hard year of teaching in a charter school there. Running had already changed my life and I had lost 100 pounds, but I was also already starting to gain it back. In short, I was struggling. BOMF presented this amazing opportunity to marry the power of running with my desire to do justice, all while building community among unlikely partners, and thereby allowed me to be part of something larger than myself. Moreover, I got to join as the Dallas chapter was launching. Needless to say, I was hooked. Of course, that doesn’t mean this happy story ends there, or even that it’s a happy story. It was on a BOMF early morning run not long before Dad died that I tripped and fell and “ate it.” As I like to say now, sometimes the road rising up to meet you isn’t a good thing. I finished my run that morning (what else was I going to do?) but should have guessed from the looks on the faces of those I was with that morning that it wasn’t pretty. I guess the picture above tells you all you need to know. Anyway, not long after this my Dad died, and Nathan was born, and we left Dallas and returned to Ohio for another four years or so. I would be blessed to be part of another great running community there (Team In Training) as I trained for the Canton Half Marathon, but I always yearned for something like BOMF again.

So of course I’m super thrilled to have found Mile In My Shoes (MiMS). I would have loved to have found MiMS as it was starting up a few years ago, but we’ve only been back in the Twin Cities for a year, and quite simply I simply wasn’t ready. No, the timing of me finding MiMS is just as serendipitous and providential as was the timing of me finding BOMF. Since running the Canton Half Marathon in 2012 I’ve broken two toes and torn my meniscus. I gained back every bit of the weight I originally lost, and more, and basically went nearly 4 years without running. It took surgery and many miles walking before I dared to try running again. The first time I was losing weight through running I remember struggling through a run and thinking how grateful I was. I knew some people couldn’t run for whatever reason, and I was just glad that I could. After 4 years of not feeling able to do so, every time I get out there these days, I think to myself: “don’t screw it up this time.” I pray that MiMS will help me in that regard.

Having been part of the “first mile” for a new “cycle” of MiMS the other day, I’ve been thinking a lot about how MiMS is and is not like BOMF. It seems to me that BOMF tries to and probably does a good job of building community among unlikely partners (those experiencing homelessness and those who aren’t) while promoting running as a lifestyle for those experiencing homelessness. However, running is also used as a tool, even a lever, to move those experiencing homelessness out of homelessness. It tries to “solve” the homelessness “problem.” In my MiMS orientation it was said that every resident of the shelter MiMS partners with has a case manager whose job it is to help residents move out of homelssness. They’re the “experts” in doing that and probably have access to far more resources, etc., than we Run Mentors would. We, on the other hand, are (allegedly) experts at running and the power of running to change lives. So, it was said at orientation, let’s let each respective set of experts focus on their expertise. I think part of what’s powerful about what both BOMF and MiMS does is the way that running can build confidence and capacity that can be used to solve the other problems in one’s life. While having a very difficult year a few years back I can remember getting up early to run before work and thinking to myself, “whatever else happens today, I ran 4 miles this morning. That’s something.” BOMF works proactively to leverage that running success and turn it into success at solving homelessness. In doing so, however, perhaps it runs the risk of doing for what those experiencing homelessness need to learn to do themselves.

Instead, I see MiMS being focused solely on building that community between unlikely partners and helping those experiencing homelessness become lifelong runners. All that potential success at running is still there to be had for those experiencing homelessness, but at the critical moment when it’s time to turn that into success at solving the homelessness problem, MiMS steps back and lets the homelessness experts and, more importantly, the resident members themselves take that next step. MiMS also seems a little more focused on education about homelessness and destigmatization, thereby building empathy in the larger community and sowing the seeds of systemic and institutional change. That’s why I’m proud to be a part of MiMS and hopeful for this next stage in my journey as, Lord willing, a lifelong runner myself. The road may include some road rash here or there and a broken toe or torn meniscus or two. It may include homelessness and the myriad challenges we all face each day, but there’s also grit, determination, and perseverance. There’s community among unlikely partners to be built. There are hugs and snacks and love to be had as we all, Lord willing, keep showing up for that next run, that next step, that next mile.

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