Back on My Feet Launching in Austin Today

Posted: January 27, 2013 in Training
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Monday morning at 5:30 a.m. a little over 150 people are going to assemble for a morning run in downtown Austin, TX.

30 of those runners will be running their first mile in a long, long time if ever.  The others will be helping them take their first strides toward self-confidence and self-sufficiency.   This run will be special for everyone as it is the first run of the Back on My Feet Austin Chapter.  The tenth such chapter in the Nation.

Back on My Feet is a national nonprofit organization that uses running to help those experiencing homelessness change the way they see themselves so they can make real change that results in employment and independent living.

Back on My Feet was founded on July 3, 2007 in Philadelphia where a young professional women, Anne Mahlum had been running past the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission on her morning runs for months.  Each day she would see the men standing outside of the shelter and wonder why is it that I get to run by each day?  Why can’t they run with me?  Why can’t they get to experience the same things I do through the sport of running.

On one occasion as she sped by one of the men called out, “Do you just run all day?” and she replied, “Do you just stand there all day?” – and with that a short 10 second relationship began to build.

Anne called the Mission, and with a little persistence, received permission to start an official running club with nine guys living in the shelter. Anne got new running shoes donated and gave them running clothes and socks. She had one requirement, anyone who joined must sign what she called a “Dedication Contract,” committing to:

  • showing up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 a.m.
  • being on time
  • respecting yourself
  • supporting teammates

Each runner, including Anne, signed and dated the document and the first one-mile run took place July 3.  In a week, the group grew to add 10 more people as volunteers.  The morning runs created a community that respected equality and promoted and rewarded positive behavior. Friendships were formed and smiles were constant.  Anne made two powerful observations that helped her to realize this growing community could be so much more than just a running club – this could be the core to changing people’s lives:

  1. The Members were coming out every day of their own volition. Anne believed (and still does!) that voluntary behavior is the only way change is possible. No one was forcing or threatening the individuals experiencing homelessness to be on that corner at 6 a.m. They were there because they wanted to be.
  2. While recording how far people ran after the morning runs, each Member waited anxiously to receive credit for their hard work. It was clear: no matter how many differences there are between us, the similarities are what connect us and make us human. We all want to be noticed, appreciated, recognized, valued, cared for and loved.  It is these emotions that drive us every day.

The theoretical question that Anne asked herself was, “if we can change the way people see themselves, can we change the direction of their lives?” She felt very strongly that if we could help people experiencing homelessness see themselves as deserving, capable, hardworking, responsible, disciplined, focused and reliable, it would be possible for them to move toward independence. This question is no longer a theory – it is a reality.

Today, 46% of Residential Members in the Back on My Feet program move their lives forward with a job, independent housing or both.

This special organization launches on Monday morning – 5:30 a.m. outside of RunTex on Riverside Drive.

Very rarely in life do you know exactly when and where lives are going to be changed forever.  But in this case – we do.

I’ve run a lot of miles over the past 7 years, somewhere around 15,000 of them, but I can honestly say that I have very rarely looked forward to a run more than Monday’s.

Hope to see all you Austinites out there to support the mission!

Feet Austin Weird!

  1. Melissa Holden says:

    Love love love this…I wish I could do this in Columbus!

  2. Bekah Powell says:

    I’ll be there tomorrow! I just may not be able to run… I went to orientation last week and have been so excited to start running with BOMF – except that last week I succumbed to injury following a week of moderate pain after racing 3M. I’m in a similar boat, to you, I think, actually. I have been training hard for Austin (full) and now I’m completely sidelined due to groin/hamstring pain. I’ve gotten ART and have started pool running and doing the stairmaster and spin classes, but it looks like all the work is down the drain in terms of racing on Feb. 17. Would love to hear anything you’ve tried that has helped! Do you recommend your sports doc? Are you close to getting back in the game?

  3. Jim in Maine says:

    Back of success Monday morning Joe – and many mornings afterward. You will bring a lot to this program – and you will learn a lot also I am sure.

  4. onelittlejill says:

    So exciting! I raised money for the BoMF in Philadelphia and I have done some work with them as well. It is an AMAZING organization!

  5. Joseph says:

    Everytime I read about this it moves me. I’ve experienced a similar situation to the founder but the difference is that I did nothing but keep running, away and faster.

    I was doing a long run that turned around in a local park one Saturday or Sunday last summer. I wasn’t sure where the path ended but near the end I came around a corner to find two large buses with “Department of Corrections” printed on the sides and about 30 men doing trash pickup. I ran past and through them and down a trail that ended up leading nowhere so I turned around. When I came back to the group, one of them said “what’s he running from?” and a bunch of them snickered. I thought to myself “I’m not running from anything. I’m running because I can, if you were a runner, perhaps you wouldn’t be picking up trash on this beautiful summer day.” But I looked around and didn’t see any officers so I sped off. I’ve often thought about that moment and wondered if I had spoken up, how many of them would have listened. I deeply regret not doing so, maybe I could have started something similar or even just woken one of them up and maybe changed his life.

    I hope BoMF Austin is a huge success Joe. I also hope that the organization makes its way to California someday; I’d love to have something to do with it.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Joseph – I think the power of running (and endurance sport) is one that finds you as much as you find it. It is something that I think can help illuminate a path that you never knew was in front of you the whole time. I’m actually off right now to run with the group here in Austin for their first miles since Monday’s launch and I can’t wait to see the group and the sense of accomplishment when we are done this morning.

      As for California – Back on my Feet is on the way. A Chapter will be launching in Los Angeles later this year! has new chapter details!

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