‘Moving your legs forward, moving your life forward:’ Back on my Feet runners at the Broad Street Run

Dave Bayo passes mile seven of the 2014 Broad Street Run. Credit: Charles Mostoller/METRO
Dave Bayo passes mile seven of the 2014 Broad Street Run. Credit: Charles Mostoller/METRO

At the Broad Street Run some joggers will go for speed and others will be in it just for fun. But the Back on My Feet Philadelphia runners — individuals who are coping with homelessness — are running to change their lives.

“Towards the end, you have that single-mindedness. You’re just focused on that last mile,” said Dave Bayo, a Back on My Feet alumnus, of the running experience. “I love being able to know I’ll do well in a 5K and feel like an Olympian.”

Bayo typically finishes in the top 20 or 30 runners in 10-mile runs, but in the Broad Street Run, which stretches from Olney to South Philadelphia and attracts 40,000 runners, he doesn’t expect to place quite so highly.

“Coming out there, suddenly we’re standing at the starting line with 40,000 people ready to run,” Bayo said. “But we’re not really racing against people. We have personal goals we’re trying to make.”

Four years ago, Bayo was dealing with homelessness at New Jerusalem House. That’s when he started running with Back on My Feet, an organization which provides support to the homeless through long-distance running activities.

Bayo took job-training through Back on My Feet, got a job at a print shop and then became eligible for financial support and put down a security deposit on a home of his own.

“It’s all about moving your legs forward, moving your life forward,” said Scott Crossin, executive director of Back on My Feet Philadelphia. “Back on My Feet is going to help them be the person they want to be.”

While corporate sponsors and private donors allow Back on my Feet to offer members financial incentives, the group’s primary focus is the benefits that community long-distance running  brings its members — mental clarity, optimism, and goal-setting, Crossin said.

“The tangible outcome of that is when they walk in the door carrying the keys to their new apartment, or wearing their new job uniform,” Crossin said. ”Running is so important in their lives because of what running does for them.”

How Back on My Feet works

In 2007, Philadelphia businesswoman Anne Mahlum founded Back on My Feet, a nonprofit program to help the homeless. Today it’s in 11 cities — most recently opening in Los Angeles.

Today, about 75 Back on My Feet runners at six shelters around the city send out their running teams three times a week at 5:30 a.m.

Runners get free running gear from Back on My Feet — shoes, clothes, socks, everything.

Runners graduate after a few runs to the “Next Steps” phase of the program — when they become eligible for grants and funding to help them change their lives.



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