Group helps homeless set goals through Monumental Marathon

James Boyd
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More than 10,000 people are expected to take part in the Monumental Marathon Saturday, Nov. 5th. The race begins in downtown Indianapolis and loops through the city before ending downtown.

James Boyd of Indianapolis will be among those running their first marathon. He says he's "nervous. Yes, it's 26.2 miles." But James is also used to monumental challenges.

"I should not be here," he said. "I was looking at a lot of years in prison. I didn't have family or anything."

Just two years ago, instead of running the streets of Indianapolis, James was living on them. Addicted to drugs and alcohol, he beat up a friend and served a year in prison. He says he hit rock bottom the day after he was released and searching for a free meal.

"I was walking up Alabama [to a church offering breakfast] thinking to myself, 'Wow, I'm walking to get food because I'm hungry and homeless' and that's when it hit me with what was going on," he said.

While going through residential treatment at the Progress House on the city's south side, James heard about a new program aimed at helping people like him get back on their feet. It involved running - something he'd never tried.

"I wasn't a healthy eater. I smoked all the time. It was bad," he said.

But he still signed up and it was no small commitment. Back on My Feet is a non-profit with seven chapters across the country, including Indianapolis. It was founded to help those experiencing homelessness become self-sufficient. Those in the program are outfitted with free running shoes and other gear.

To participate, James had to agree to run several times a week for at least six months with a 90 percent attendance rate. Weekdays he'd be up and out the door by 5:30 a.m. He wasn't running alone. He was running with volunteers, equally committed. On weekends he'd do the long runs with Lori Andersen, who'd drive up from Bloomington.

"She cracks the whip on me, but it's all in love. She doesn't let me whimper or whine...I will get done with my mileage and I will be okay. She's a nurse," he laughed.

Back on My Feet is about more than logging miles. James says he's learned how to set goals, be accountable and build relationships.

"These are unlike any relationships I've had in my life - these people are connected to you," he said. "You run 20 miles with someone and you get to know a lot about them."

Lori, too, has learned a lot about James.

"He just keeps going," she said. "Things have knocked him down and he keeps coming back up. He's very positive."

For the first time in his life, James has a place of his own and he has a job. He's also off drugs, alcohol and even cigarettes.

"It's been 220 days since my last cigarette, yay for me!" he smiled.

But most importantly, he has friends who've become like family.

"They have your back," he said. "It's just amazing. I don't think I'd be here today if it wasn't for Back on My Feet, I'm pretty sure of that."

Back on My Feet

See the marathon route here.

Traffic alert: The route for this marathon is long and complicated, starting downtown on Washington near West and winding through a lot of streets, all the way up to 66th, then coming back down to end near the same location as the start. It goes through a lot of neighborhoods, including downtown, the near north side, Broad Ripple (including College Ave.) and Riverview, and will tie up traffic from 8:00 am to 2:30 pm. Plan accordingly, because you could get stuck in a long line of traffic waiting for runners to pass.