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Running to new lives - Metro US

Running to new lives

A Vancouver marathon runner wants to help the city’s homeless improve their health and self esteem one step at a time — literally.

Benji Chu has founded a running club for the homeless that starts this Wednesday at 3 p.m. at First Baptist Church on Burrard Street. It’ll meet Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings.

It’s inspired by Back On My Feet, a similar club, founded by Anne Mahlum in Philadelphia. Today, it has 200 active participants in three U.S. cities and more than 800 alumni since 2007.

“I saw Anne running with the homeless people … they have totally transformed their life in a positive way,” said Chu.

Out running one day, Chu bumped into a homeless man who wanted to run with him, but wouldn’t leave his shopping cart.

“So I pushed his cart. He was running alongside me … and he said laughing ‘this is exactly what I’m looking for and I’m so happy.’”

He’s been jogging his mind, thinking of ways to start the running club since.

“They need more than people feeding them to make a difference in their lives,” said Chu.

The idea is to help give members a sense of community and something to look forward to in the mornings.

“Every human being has something to get addicted to. We (will) use running to help them turn their lives around.”

Chris Wink of Back On My Feet said they have no shortage of success stories.

“(The homeless people) get that running fills a void. You set a goal and you have to build up to it,” Wink said in a phone interview from Philadelphia Thursday.

The overwhelming success of the U.S. organization has it expanding to a fourth city in May with plans to expand to five more North American cities in 2011.

Chu said he’s hoping to get new runners started by walking, then building up their stamina from there.

“My goal is four months … for them to run a race by the end of the summer.”

Ex-homeless person Haydn Coote said he’s planning to join the running club. Without physical activity to motivate him, he said he’s not sure where he would be today.

“Running is fantastic … to me it’s the endorphin rush,” said Coote.

He added that he sees exercise as an investment in his body and mind.

“When I feel good, I can get things done.”

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