The Recovery Run Team - Getting Started
There was a wonder rattling around in my head as I ran by the Guiding Light Mission.
One of a handful of missions that punctuate the landscape of South Division in Downtown Grand Rapids Michigan, Guiding Light offers a foothold for people free falling because of addiction. I choose to run down this road because seeing well manicured lawns and perfect lives get repetitive; I prefer to see life at all levels.
As I run past the Mission I see men and women standing still in life. Most are gathered in small groups, sharing a cigarette or a bottle...and sometimes I hear snippets of conversation as they share information about the latest incidents on the street.
Now I’ve had some random, out of the blue thoughts in my life, but this day I came up with a doozy.
“If I could get them to go for a run with me might this not add a little structure to their lives, a way to experience the feeling of their bodies working the way God intended, or at least some steps in the right direction?"
And then a moment's doubt - "A run team made up of homeless, recovering addicts? C’mon..."
Still, in the end, I felt I had to try. Random thinker and impetuous man that I am, I swerved in to the mission to gauge the interest.
I Had to Try
“Can I help you?” asked the guy manning the front desk.
“I’d like to talk to someone about starting a running program here,” I replied.
I guess I expected his eyes to widen in disbelief as if to say, “Running is what healthy people do... these guys are addicts!” Running program? Are you kidding?” Instead, the guy simply told me that I should talk with Bill. He pointed down the hall and said, “third door on the right”
Bill Schaffer is a program director at Guiding Light, a man who was battling the effects of Chemo when I sat in front of him to reveal my plan. I mention this because, in hindsight, his situation may have opened his heart to all possibilities...even starting a running club for the homeless addicts.
He told me to show up the next day and address the mission population, those in the program and those who come for a meal and prayer. I was heartened by the response thus far, but knew that the “pitch to the people” would be tougher.
Pitch to the People
Thirty guys, hurting in one way or another, sat before me the next day, likely wondering what this guy who seemed so excited had to say.
“Do you guys want to feel good?” I blurted.
“The kind of good that isn’t going to kill you? The kind of buzz that comes from your body hitting on all cylinders?”
Chuckles and murmured words..not the response I had hoped for.
I went on to explain that I’m a man who had fought some demons. That running always offered me solitary moments for soul searching and that the running brand of meditation comes with added benefits; weight loss, fewer health problems and a buzz that can last all day.
Slowly some hands came up.
John, Neil and Frank said they were game.
I scheduled the first run for the very next day.
The First Run
It was 8am and John, Neil and Frank looked eager, though ill-eqipped.
They all had t-shirts but that was the end of the traditional running outfit as most of us know it. John wore board shorts as if he was going to the beach and sneakers better suited for basketball.. Neil and Frank wore jeans and hiking boots that had traveled many a mile.
The run started as a walk and I let them know that the slowest common denominator would be the rule of the run. This said, Frank, the pack a day smoker, set the pace.
I couldn’t help thinking, as I watched these guys who faced so many challenges in life, how great it was that they had accepted my challenge to try to get fit. No longer was I running by the Missions to FEEL like I was experiencing life at a different level, but now I was actually immersing myself in it. I was getting to know the stories of the guys who most feel have slipped to a level beneath notice.
I wondered if I would become as much a counselor as a coach?
We ran for 20 minutes or so. The pace may have been slow but the conversation was fast. It was as if my need to know more about these guys and their lives was matched by their need to tell. The weeks rolled by and John, Neil and Frank showed up dutifully.
I was thrilled with this response, but then whole concept of a Recovering Run Team took a turn for the sensational. All because of a man named Jay.