The room itself was not glamorous, a well-used podium set up in front of dozens of mismatched chairs with florescent lights overhead. But the view was appropriate for the evening. From the 11th floor much of DC was laid out below us; expansive and seemingly limitless. We were gathered to honor 41 accomplished men and women. They are restaurant workers and landscapers; they wield tools at construction sites and haul boxes in stockrooms. They care for their children and comfort their aging parents. They pay rent and bills, and they put aside savings to fulfill their plans for a larger apartment or to start a business of their own. And they continue to confront the legacies of substance abuse, incarceration and homelessness. They are the first alumni of the Washington DC chapter of Back of My Feet.
Together they ran more than 8500 miles, though in the stories that volunteers and friends told about them it’s clear that these are men and women who were running toward something. The words we heard most often were “proud,” “friend,” “supportive,” and “inspiration.” We celebrated “leadership,” “focus,” “determination,” and “strength.” We heard about men who once couldn’t run a single mile digging deep and finishing a half marathon. We heard about women who came out three times a week—every week, in the snowy winters and the sweltering summers—to join with others in logging their miles. We shared stories of challenges overcome, of laughter, of love and of the occasional song belted out in the streets of DC. Honorees stood shyly as we read messages of congratulations and pride from their teammates, sometimes looking as if they couldn’t quite believe the effect they had on so many others.
And afterward we clustered together like you always do at a family gathering. Nibbling on cookies, catching up on the daily goings-on with those we haven’t seen in a while. We joked about pounds gained when work starts to encroach on training time, and compared notes about races we plan to run this year. We cheered recent promotions and admired sharply pressed suits and well-shined shoes. As the crowd slowly broke up, with some moving toward buses home and others cadging rides, one thing became clear: against tough odds and the expectations of many, but with the support and love of their Back on My Feet family, these alumni had made it.