“Only the SPECIAL people get the fancy police escort.” Minzi told Heather as she encouraged her along the LAX Half Marathon. This wasn’t Heather’s first half marathon. She had trained before with Up and Running Again to run other half marathons. But this race was different. Heather, from Orange County Rescue Mission had done many of the training runs pushing her daughter in a stroller. But this race Heather pushed her 8 year old daughter and her knees were in pain. Our volunteer, Minzi ran alongside Heather and took turns pushing her 73-pound daughter. Other times she walked. By the end, Minzi pushed the stroller the last mile or two….with a police escort.. Minzi says, “It is funny because when I first started running my biggest fear was being last. I knew it would happen some day.”
Minzi started volunteering with us in 2013 when she ran her second half marathon, the Long Beach Half. She heard about URA from reading an article about the nonprofit in the LA Times in 2013. “It is funny because I was SO CLOSE to not coming to volunteer with URA because I imagined that all the volunteers were like Iron Men / Boston Qualifiers and I would be the worst one there.” However she soon found out that our program is about getting everyone across the finish line- no matter the pace. Some of our most helpful volunteers are those that run and encourage those in the back of the group.
“Running itself is a metaphor for life. The discipline learned being a distance runner is directly applicable to life. So many runners with URA tell me they’ve never finished anything in their life. URA matches the Missions efforts of a life with God. And for me, I see this played out in real time / real life. This faith is working. It is strong and URA is a huge blessing in my life. I see the results of the mission and URA – real results. This opportunity is available for anyone who wants to participate and listen. Not just the residents / students of the mission, but the volunteers as well,” says Minzi.
For the last 4 years Minzi has stayed involved with URA , sometimes running intermittently between her own races and injuries. Along the way she met Heather about 2 years ago, a single mom at the OC Rescue Mission. Minzi describes her, “Heather is the nicest person. She is very upbeat and positive. She is also a very vocal / loud person and its hard to miss her in a crowd. I think this is why I like her. Heather is really really smart. I hope she can do everything she is planning.”
Special bonds are formed along the way between volunteers and participants over the long training miles. When Minzi found out that the Up and Running Again policy was to pay the race entry for first and second time runners, it was a no-brainer for her to offer to sponsor Heather for her third half marathon.
And so when the LAX Half Marathon came, Minzi had that extra bit of investment in Heather as she ran the race. In giving Heather a break in pushing her daughter, Minzi had the opportunity to chat with her. What kid turning 7 doesn’t like to talk about their birthday? And so along the miles they discussed what she would want for her birthday – Zoomer Kitty, Fidget Spinner, ‘fart’ Slime and Shopkins. “I asked Olivia if she wanted any clothes or a purse or anything, and she said “NO”-like are you kidding me ? No. When we parted ways the day of the LAX Half I told [her daughter] I would be at the Mission with her presents on her birthday,” says Minzi.
And so on June 3rd, Minzi, after trying multiple times to get a hold of Heather, was able to connect with her and her daughter at the OC Rescue Mission and give her all the things she was wishing for. Heather had been worried during the day because her daughter kept asking her if Minzi was coming with her presents and any mom knows how hard it is to see their child disappointed. So when Minzi came, Heather and her daughter were so thankful!
During the race, Heather asked Minzi if she was her friend. A REAL friend, not just connected through Up and Running Again. Minzi said yes. Heather dreams about her daughter and Minzi’s daughter playing together when they move out of the rescue mission and getting a place of their own. “I told her yes, this is real. It is not fake, I don’t fake stuff and I told Heather to please invite me to her graduation from VOH [Village of Hope- OC Rescue Mission] and I look forward to her moving on and being successful in her life.”