Once a week, I run with the Philly chapter of Back on My Feet. Every single person living in, or who has lived in, a homeless shelter that gets up at 5:30am to run between 2-4 miles inspires me. They are my heroes. They are truly getting back on their feet.
One person who particularly inspires me, that I see almost every time I run with the group, is a man named Pete. The first time I ever ran with him, he was the music man. He had a speaker for his phone with him, and he blasted tunes from Chaka Khan and almost the entire Superfly soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield. I loved it and immediately dubbed him “O.G.” in my mind.
I’d estimate that he’s somewhere in his late-40’s or early to mid-50’s. Definitely old enough to be an O.G. 🙂
Several runs after that, we all stood in a circle as we do before every run. The group leader asked us to say our names, how many miles we were doing, and why we love running. I don’t remember how many miles Pete said he would do, but he said he loves running because it keeps him from drinking.
I knew at that moment that I was in the right place.
Pete is really serious about his running. He even has a GPS watch and keeps track of his time and pace. If you tell him how fast you ran a certain distance, he’ll be able to get pretty close to telling you your mile pace just by doing quick math in his head.
It had been a while since I ran with him. Sometimes I turn the runs into a speed workout by keeping up with the fast folks. Other times I keep up with the slow folks who want to go the 3-4 mile distance, and I’m simply there to encourage them. Pete is usually in the middle of the pack, so our paths haven’t crossed often.
However, today, I just wanted to run with him. And so I did. He’s always focused on his runs, with his headphones in and able to tune the world out. I figured if I just run with him, whether beside him or behind him or in front of him, it wouldn’t matter. I just wanted to run with him because he inspires me.
So, I wound up running a bit in front of him with another volunteer that I just met this morning. We chatted about our lives; turns out he also picked up running as an outlet post-divorce. He told me how he’s training for the Marine Corps Marathon, and I told him how I’m training to run a sub-25 minute 5k.
Pete doesn’t always remember the exact turn points on the run routes, so we kept him on course by running a little bit in front of him so he was able to see us turn and follow us.
When we got to the home stretch, just four blocks from the finish line, Pete picked up the pace and passed us. I in turn picked up the pace and caught up with him. My volunteer friend couldn’t pick up the pace and got left behind. In his defense, he had run 3.5 miles at 4am this morning before we all ran at 5:30am, and marathon training had probably left him with dead legs.
So, Pete and I ran towards the finish line. There are certain times when my running makes me feel free. When I pick up the pace and suddenly my arms feel looser and my whole body feels like it’s in one fluid motion. I got that feeling this morning when booking it towards the finish line with Pete.
To me, that feeling of fluid motion represents what running is to me in its purest form. It’s an uplifting act. It’s a strengthening tool. The uplifting and strengthening can be for me as well as for whoever I’m running with.
When we crossed the finish line, Pete gave dap to a few folks and otherwise ran off to be by himself for a bit. He usually walks it off and goes away from everyone for a couple of minutes before coming back. We didn’t say another word to each other for the rest of our time there. He was the first one to leave and left before I could say goodbye to him.
And that’s perfectly fine with me. That’s just Pete being Pete. He always says what’s up to me in the morning and now consistently knows my name. He’s always good for giving you a pound, cracking a joke, and saying that he needs to get back into the boxing gym and get back down to fighting at middleweight.
He’s a fighter alright. Though I don’t know all the details, or even many of the details, his story is written all over him. His fighting spirit is also written all over him. Especially when he stays focused on his runs and makes sure that his watch has caught the GPS signal before he runs.
Thank you, Pete, for inspiring me. I’m sure you also inspire everyone else who comes to Back on My Feet workouts with you.