The first mile of the rest of your life
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 5:45 a.m., you can find me at the Salvation Army shelter near Centennial Park doing jumping jacks with guys that live there before our morning run. We are “Team Sally” (for Salvation Army) of Back on My Feet Atlanta.
Back on My Feet is helping save the lives of people experiencing homelessness and battling addiction right here in Atlanta.
We have teams at three Atlanta shelters. Volunteers like me meet at our team’s shelter before dawn three mornings a week to run one to four miles with our teammates. At Salvation Army, most of our teammates are veterans going through an addiction recovery program. They have to be clean and sober for 30 days before they can join the team. They’ve usually just reached that goal when they show up for their first run. Some haven’t run a single mile since basic training. We are quite literally meeting them on the “first day of the rest of their lives.” We run their first mile and many more with them, cheering them on and encouraging them with every step. I have had the privilege of running alongside guys for their first mile and then, several months later, wiping tears from my eyes as I watch them cross the finish line of their first marathon.
Guys who huff and puff through that first mile, walking most of the way and barely able to speak, go on to run 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and marathons. In their first race, the goal is to finish. Later, the goal is to finish faster than they did the last time. And for some, the goal is eventually to place in their age group, take first place in their age group, or even win the race.
The self-confidence and pride my teammates gain from running soon reaches into all other aspects of their lives. Most never imagined they’d run races. When they see that's possible, they begin to believe other achievements are within their reach, too. They leverage their running accomplishments into the confidence they need to go to school, get jobs, move out of the shelter, some start businesses, some marry, others regain custody of children, and some reunite with estranged family members. Some of our members are fighting severe depression. I've heard from many of them that the family they have found in Back on My Feet keeps them going from one day to the next.
You may think it sounds hard to get out of bed at 5am to go run, and it is, but I also can't wait to see my teammates each morning. It’s bittersweet to say goodbye to them as they leave the shelter and get back on their feet. But it's also a privilege to see firsthand what people can accomplish when they have a team of supporters running alongside them.
On August 13th, I’m running Back on My Feet’s annual Meaningful Miles race to raise money to help this organization continue to do its good work. Donations help provide running shoes and gear for our teammates; race entries, and job skills training. And all of this gets them the confidence that leads to self-sufficiency. Please consider donating just $5 to this cause or more if you can.