Running From Homelessness?

8 comments December 3rd, 2006at 03:15pm Posted by Eli

This is kinda interesting and uplifting (why yes, I am just browsing through the NYT’s AP page – what of it?):

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.”


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.”


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.”

This never would have occurred to me. I ran cross-country for a couple of years in high school, and the first month or so of getting into shape for it was utterly miserable hell. But once I got to the point where I could just run and run and run for miles without difficulty, I began to really enjoy it, especially just running aimlessly through the woods with my teammates; and the end of a race, when I could use my “kick” to blow past people (other than this, I pretty much sucked). I also really enjoyed the one cross-country meet we had in the snow, where I learned to use ice slicks to my advantage.

It didn’t exactly instill any kind of values or discipline in me that I use in my day-to-day life (perhaps this is why I sucked), but then, I wasn’t waking up at 5AM to train for a marathon, or even a half-marathon. Our races were usually 3 or 4 miles, and most of our practice runs were in that same general range, with one 10-mile run each year.

But hey: Whatever works. If running can instill discipline and purpose in people who are struggling, then I’m all for it. I’m also reminded of this fascinating story about a mysterious sixty-something homeless man who also happens to be a phenomenal softball player.

Entry Filed under: Coolness


  • 1. charley  |  December 3rd, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    the lonliness of the long distance runner.

    the only essay i ever got an A on in english.

  • 2. op99  |  December 4th, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Homeless people weren’t always homeless. Perhaps working toward a goal and success (finishing) bring them a step closer to solving problems, overcoming addictions, and rejoining the wider world.

  • 3. Eli  |  December 4th, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    I’ve gotten to the point where I’m looking for narrative booby traps everywhere – the one nagging worry that this story gives me is that it reinforces the Republican narrative that pulling yourself up out of poverty is simply a matter of willpower. They can point to this story and say, “You see? All these people needed was stick-to-itiveness and gumption, not handouts.”

    That being said, I still think it’s a positive story, and I’m happy for them.

  • 4. op99  |  December 4th, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    I’ve gotten to the point where I’m looking for narrative booby traps everywhere – the one nagging worry that this story gives me is that it reinforces the Republican narrative that pulling yourself up out of poverty is simply a matter of willpower.

    Hadn’t thought of that – good point. Reminds me of a “discussion” (ha) endlessly repeated between me and a rightwing colleage about media bias about the time Bernie Goldberg’s book Bias came out. Since neither of us found the other’s arguments persuasive, we decided to each monitor the same CBS Evening News show, and score it according to an elaborate pre-agreed-upon system. Turns out each of our net results for the entire 1/2 hour was pretty close to neutral, although we differed as to direction or degree on individual stories.

    Circling back around to your point and mine, one fluff story had us both scratching our heads and deeply suspicious. It was about a cloned kitten. The footage was “Cute Overload” material, so was it the evil liberals trying to make cloning look innocuous? Or was it the evil conservatives setting the stage to slam the experiment at a future date?

    The moral of the story, I guess, is that sometimes a cucumber is just a cucumber.

  • 5. Eli  |  December 4th, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    I would guess that a story about a cute, cuddly, cloned kitten is more likely to make cloning seem benign than sinister.

    But the intent was probably just to run some cute kitten footage – I can’t really fault them for that…

  • 6. op99  |  December 4th, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    Eli, what made it a headscratcher was that human cloning was a right wing hot button “issue”, but no pundits or other assorted assholes had yet publicized an ideological position on animal cloning, left or right. We couldn’t either one of us think of an excuse to get worked up over it, but we knew there had to be something, lol.

  • 7. Eli  |  December 4th, 2006 at 8:14 pm

    All I know for sure is that I am objectively pro-kitten.

  • 8. Multi Medium » The &hellip  |  January 21st, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    […] 2) I resent the underlying premise that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is the only path to rehabilitation and redemption. It is just a little too similar to the prejudice that atheists cannot be moral because they do not have a religious code to guide them. What might a secular rehabilitation program look like? Social work is waaaay outside my area of expertise, but how about something like this, or any other organized activity that focuses the mind and builds up discipline and self-worth? Religion does not have a monopoly on instilling purpose and values. […]

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