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Homeless runners prepare for Indy Monumental Marathon

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Thirty-five runners in Saturday’s Indianapolis Monumental Marathon Races are or recently were without homes.

They’re part of a homeless running club called “Back on My Feet,” which boasts a unique mission.

“Our mission is we combat homelessness through the power of running, community support and essential employment and housing resources,” said Liz Navarre, senior director of marketing and development for Back on My Feet Indianapolis. “They’re getting up three days a week at 5:45 in the morning, in the rain, snow, cold, they’re out there running.”

“At first I was like, ‘These people are crazy,’” said Demetrios Pitchford, 31, who has struggled with homelessness for three years. “Running 13 miles? Who does that? But now I’m running 13 miles myself.”

Pitchford says he completely lost hope when he was incarcerated in 2014.

“During the process, I found God, and the courts allowed me to bond out and go to a program called The House of Hope in Brazil, Indiana,” he said. “That’s where my journey kind of started.”

Pitchford’s journey led him to Wheeler Mission Ministries, Back on My Feet and one early alarm clock.

“It’s just a great way to start the morning,” Pitchford said. “With a clear mind. Sense of accomplishment already within an hour of getting up.”

Navarre says that’s the difference — giving someone who’s homeless a reason to wake up in the morning, get active, set a goal and achieve it.

“They come back, and they’re all sweaty and out of breath and they say, ‘I did two miles today, and I’ve never gotten that far in my life!’” said Navarre. “Just seeing them accomplish things, completely change.”

Navarre explained that they help their participants with cold or warm weather clothing, and an army of volunteers encourage them every step of the way. However, it’s the participant’s job to show up at 5:45 a.m. and walk or run with the group. After a few weeks of consistent workouts, Back on My Feet starts to help in other ways, including job connections and interview training.

“A lot of our job partners have said, ‘I’m more likely to hire from the Back on My Feet program because I know they’re dedicated. They’re getting up, they’re out there running, and I know they’re going to show up for work,’” said Navarre.

“Since I’ve been on Back on My Feet, I went and got my GED. I’m currently in welding school,” smiles Pitchford. “Getting things done, being productive. Something I’ve never been in the right aspect of things.”

Pitchford is preparing to run his first half marathon Saturday along with several of his fellow runners from Back on My Feet. He says he can see how each workout has worked out.

“It’s just setting goals and accomplishing it, and moving onto things bigger and better,” he said.

To learn more about Back on My Feet, click here.