Three years ago, friends Liz Davenport and Rachel Crabtree founded A Running Start, a non-profit program that sponsors group runs for people who are working to free themselves from homelessness and/or addiction.
“Rachel has always had a heart for the homeless and I lost my dad to his addiction when I was 16,” Liz said. “I have other relatives who also struggle with addiction.”
The women started their program by running with four men served by Lighthouse Ministries. “Two of them completed a half marathon and the other two did a seven-mile race,” Liz said.
They since have worked with people through Chrysalis House (which offers substance abuse treatment programs for women) and the Fayette County Drug Court. Today, they run with men from The Hope Center at 5:30 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday. Newcomers join them for one or two sessions to see if they are a good fit.
At times, their running group has numbered 30 or more, but the average roster is 10 men. In the beginning, they mostly walk before easing into jogging; as their training progresses, they run four to six miles on the Legacy Trail.
In addition to the health benefits of regular exercise, the men gain pride in their commitment to running and their participation in competitive events. “A runner has to be determined,” Liz said. “They have to show up on time and be accountable.”
These qualities are a stark contrast to the shame they often have experienced as a homeless and/or addicted person.
One of the biggest rewards of A Running Start is that family members often come out to cheer as their spouses, fathers and brothers cross a finish line at a running event.
The runners receive new running shoes and apparel through sponsorships, Liz said. Sponsors also pay the race entry fees for The Hope Center runners. Interested persons can learn more at Facebook.com/arunningstartlex.
Liz, 40, fits A Running Start into her busy life as a single mom of daughters Joey, 10, and Katie, 16. A former nurse for 10 years, Liz is a community outreach specialist at Greenhouse 17 (formerly the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program) and a residential Realtor with Weichert Realtors. Daughter Joey often rides her bike with the runners, chanting “Go, guys, go.”
There was a time when Liz preferred to run alone. “I didn’t like to run in a group,” she said. “I thought running was my Zen time. Now, I think running equalizes everyone, whether you’re rich or poor, a felon or a non-felon. We all have to finish that mile. This has built friendships and bonds that I never had before. We say, ‘No runner is left behind.’”
A Running Start is a year-round commitment. “We run in snow, sleet and rain,” Liz said. “It builds some character to get through the bad weather. It’s something to high-five at the end of a run in the rain.”