Wednesday, April 27, 2011

3,000 Miles, Baby!!

We just got news that over the course of our first year, Blair House has gone 3,000 miles together. THREE THOUSAND miles.

That's like running from Blair House to see the Space Needle in Seattle, or to sit on the beach in LA. We could have reached Vegas with energy to spare, or done four round-trip runs to Chicago. We could have run to Spain! (OK, so that last one would also entail some swim training, but you know what I mean.)

But Back On My Feet is about so much more than just the running, even if that's the easiest thing to count. How many smiles does 3,000 miles equal? How many hugs? Here's my attempt at an equation to quantify Blair House's first year, feel free to check my math:

3,000 Miles = [Daily hugs x (high fives/words of encouragement) + the pride of crossing a finish line to the power of good luck wishes for a job interview] x (lasting friendships + having somebody to catch you if you fall) all to the power of multiple smiles.

So here's to 3,000 miles with my BOMF family. And guess what, it's only another 6,700 miles to Sydney, Australia. I've always wanted to go there...

Friday, April 22, 2011

An invitation to our esteemed neighbors at the Capitol Building

There is a lot of talk this time of year about suffering, redemption, rebirth and liberation (and allergies, but that's neither here nor there). For the past couple of years there's also been a lot of talk about the need for "shared sacrifice" and "belt-tightening" and "getting back to basics." I think about all that talk, talk, talk a lot when I'm out running with the guys at Back On My Feet.

As part of the much anticipated federal budget deal, the nation's capital played a starring role as the proverbial sacrificial lamb; in the style of all good epic dramas we have offered up some of our flock for slaughter. $7 million in federal funds were cut from from a local program to help the chronically homeless. And the Easter Bunny isn't bringing the critical federal funding that came down as part of the stimulus anymore. As a result, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute estimates the Mayor's budget will shrink homeless spending by as much as 25% in 2012. And all this comes when the annual estimate of the number of homeless in DC shows the population up nearly 10% over the course of this economic downturn.

Maybe we should invite some of these lawmakers to come run with Back On My Feet one morning. Maybe they should see for themselves how people respond to friendship, hard work and, yes, financial support to begin to turn their lives around. Maybe they should hear how when given a chance to dream, people experiencing homelessness express hopes for themselves and their children just like everybody else. Maybe they should watch how B always dances around trying to keep his balance during quad stretches, or how A has built up to the point where he can pound out 3 miles like it's nothing. Maybe they should hear N's laugh, or learn from B how many hours he works busing dishes to keep his tenuous grip on his newly independent life. Surely men like these are worth investing in. Surely it's time to sponsor some new stories of suffering turning into salvation.

Hey, Lawmakers! Blair House is less than 1.5 miles from the Capitol Building. We'll even map you a route that avoids the hills (although as the guys will tell you, it's the hill work that makes you stronger).

If you want to help despite what the lawmakers say, please consider donating at:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Metrication Prohibited Before 6 a.m.

Back when I was a kid--you know, before we had electricity, and we walked uphill both ways to school--we were told that America was going to go metric! Somehow, I always blamed Jimmy Carter for cluttering my head with liters and centimeters, but it turns out it was Gerald Ford who signed the "Metric Convertion Act of 1975." (Thanks, Google!) Like so much of the elementary school curriculum, any knowledge I ever had of metrics has dissolved (along with what we need the pluperfect tense for and the detailed rules for "Foursquare"). All, that is, but for two distances: 5k and 10k.

The other day at Back On My Feet we were discussing our next race, an 8k being held next month. "How far is 8k?" N asked me. " 5 miles?" I said uncertainly. "A little more than five miles, or a little less?" Dude, it's 5:45 in the morning and I don't have Jimmy Carter on speed-dial. But this is important to the guys, they've only done a 5k (3.1 miles) so far, so the jump from 5 to 8 sounds a little daunting. We assured them we'd get them there: we'll train for the next month together, do some hills together, do some speed work together and in the end we'll toe up at the starting line together and talk each other through. Because that's what we do.

Oh, by the way, 8 kilometers is 4.9709695 miles. (How did we survive before Google, anyway?)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

April Showers

A Saturday run is on the schedule. Gray-tinged light from the window, one gutter overflowing. (Nice, it's raining.)

Feed the cat. (It's raining.)

Sip coffee and skim the news. (It's raining.)

Start some laundry, make the bed, scrub last night's cooking pot, put away the dishes. (It's raining.)

The text says, "Work on your running
and your willpower."

(But, it's raining.)

Hit the road, soaked within seconds with the wind pushing rain under my hat. (It's raining.)

Sounds of water roaring through the creek, birds singing in the trees. (It's raining.)

Robins stalk unwary worms, a man with an umbrella pleads with his dogs to walk faster. (It's running.)

A cat hides under a porch, bikes and a baseball lie abandoned in a wet yard, tulips stretch and open for the water, lawns turn green almost before my eyes. (It's raining.)

A little boy in a rain jacket stomps through puddles, houses with their lights on in the middle of the day, an old man standing looking out his living room window. (It's raining.)

Up the hills, down the hills, up the hills, down the hills. Clothes stuck to my limbs, shoes like lead weights tied to my feet. (Still raining.)

And then, suddenly, I'm done. Six miles? Already?
Dry, warm, in a cozy armchair with the cat purring next to me and a mystery novel nearby. (It's raining.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Sometimes volunteering with Back On My Feet makes your heart sing. Other times it makes your heart break. And sometimes, both things happen on the same day. Today we learned that two of our long-time friends at Blair House, W and K, are both moving into permanent housing. K will cut his commute to work from two hours each way by bus to about half an hour. W found an apartment big enough to allow him to live with his son again after too long apart. I remember both of them on their first days, panting at the end of their first mile and shaking their heads in disbelief at the very idea of setting a 6 mile goal, and today I couldn't be any prouder of them both.

But today we also learned that another of our members, also a K, has stumbled. Consistently sunny and filled with joy every morning, K was struggling alone with his frustrations and went AWOL after a weekend away from the shelter. His absence has been felt keenly and all of us worry where he might be on this drizzly evening. This is what happens when a person experiencing homelessness goes from a statistic to a friend: you know their name, you know their history, you know their favorite color and what super hero power they would have if they could choose. They become family and you worry like crazy when you think of what could be happening to them right now.

People tell me all the time how impressive they find my work with Back On My Feet. They tell me how great it is that I give to others, or how admirable it is. But that's not true; people like W, K and K give me inspiration, determination and strength, but also remind me about forgiveness, gentleness and love. They're my family, and they're why I keep setting my own new running goals.

In three months I'm joining two of our other members to run for 24 straight hours. It's going to be hard, yeah, but you can be sure we're going to get it done. If you can support us with a donation it would be greatly appreciated.