“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.”
She talks like a poet or writer and she runs like a dancer, and she definitely has a warm and encouraging and sensitive spirit. But, as is true of all of us, Elizabeth is more than meets the eye. We first met Elizabeth a year ago when she began training for her first half marathon with Up and Running Again. Currently she is training for her first full marathon, under the guidance of Coach Greg Clarke. She will be running the LA Marathon this Sunday.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We would love for you to get to know this person we have had the pleasure of becoming friends with. Let’s go back to the beginning, where Elizabeth started her recovery journey. Through her time at the Orange County Rescue Mission, she has reflected on her life and Christ’s work in her life. Here we share a glimpse into her soul as she includes an excerpt from an essay she wrote at OCRM.
“When I first arrived at the mission, I came in stoned and hungover from the night before. I was disheveled, unhappy, overweight, hopeless, lost, and worst of all, I was afraid. I was afraid of what I had become and afraid of whom I might never be able to be. I was afraid of me. I was cloaked in regret and self-pity for all the “what if’s, should haves, and the what could never be’s.” But thanks to God, somewhere in my desperation, the Lord had His way with me. He hinted to my heart and faintly whispered to my soul, patiently residing in the back of my mind, waiting for me to hear him in my train of thoughts. After a series of catastrophic events, it finally became clear that The Village of Hope [OC Rescue Mission] should be my home…at least for a little while. It was the Christian aspect of this place that kept me curious and so I came and my heart is glad for it.
I’ve learned so much and yet have barely scratched the surface of all the things to come. I know this is just the beginning but what a beautiful start to a life of value and godliness and goodness for the glory of God. I learned basic fundamentals to start. I have learned time management and orderliness. I’ve learned the value of rising early, being consistent, industrious, and disciplined. I have strengthened my determination to tap into my full potential. I have used the time gifted to me by taking better care of my body, feeding my mind, nourishing my heart and igniting my soul.
I originally walked through the gates with my eyes down as if walking through a prison yard keeping only to myself. I was 50lbs overweight on my body, 100 lbs. overweight on my mind and totally uninterested in everyone. I came here jaded, bitter, and feeling 500 years old. I am certain that had it not been for the unshakable inkling of God, I would still be that person.
I started running to lose weight but in the process I discovered all of these precious pieces of myself that I’d totally forgotten about. I tapped into the athletic inborn prism of my soul that I had left for dead after having my son. I learned the value of discipline and not being ruled nor fooled by my emotions simply by dedicating myself to showing up at the crack of dawn no matter what. Most of all, I learned to talk to the Lord and see His beautiful face and all His glory in the rising sun and in the crispy freshness of the air. I felt Him in my lungs and heard Him in the rhythm of my thumping heart. I also rediscovered the childhood splendor of a natural high fueled by the once depleted serotonin that now buzzes through my brain on a regular basis. I learned how having a baby doesn’t have to stop me from self-discovery or being me while being a mom simultaneously. And that’s just running. I meant to just lose weight and in the process, I dumped a bunch of useless baggage, which left me free with plenty of room to pick up some diamonds along the way. Thank you “Up and Running Again.”
In the end I found the Holy Spirit who is filling me up and breaking the chains that once bound me to a generational curse of drugs, alcohol, violence, and rebellion. That freedom I am happy to say I will be taking with me for the rest of my life and for all eternity God willing. My son will have a good future. He is and will be loved and raised in the way of the Lord. I am certain I would fall on my face otherwise. I was called to raise a human being. Yikes! Nothing has ever made me fear the Lord more. Thank you to OCRM for helping me pick up the pieces of my broken life and get it together just enough so that the Lord could do some work on me. Thank you for helping me to invite Him into my life. I was dead. I would’ve never come had it not been for my son. I also would’ve never been the mom I am now had it not been for this place.
Please take 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 to heart. “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My Strength is made perfect in weakness’ Therefore most gladly I would rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” And that is what keeps me sober.
As far as mistakes, I make them and pray to grow from them and do all I can to not repeat them. But perhaps I had to go through this to realize that I’ve been shortchanging myself. I discovered a tendency I have in me to low ball my potential. It is my hope that my relationship with Christ will build on that. I’d like to broaden my horizons farther than what I think I am capable of achieving. After all, I trust in the Lord and I know that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
And at Up and Running Again, we have literally watched as Elizabeth is broadening her horizons. God has given her the blessing and strength to begin a new job a couple weeks ago as a childcare provider at a Montessori School. The marathon training has definitely stretched her and we are so proud to walk along her on this journey!
“There’s a scripture that I love and it became alive while serving with Up and Running Again, ‘And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35.” Maybe this is a verse you would think a resident at a rescue mission would cherish if they understand they are on the receiving end and are truly thankful. However, this previous participant in our program (we’ll call her Jane), truly understood that Jesus was calling each person, even someone struggling financially, to give.
Through text messages, Jane told me she was going to donate several hundred dollars to us through a wiring service that Walmart offers. She explained that she now graduated from the mission and is working, but hasn’t found a solid church where she wants to tithe. Gaining your wings after being at the mission can be hard and she has had her fair share of struggles with housing and jobs. Despite all this, she told me, “I know that my responsibility is to trust God even when things go the opposite way. He has a plan for my life and I just need to be faithful.”
Her faithfulness in giving back money to God (through Up and Running Again) speaks loudly to me of a story in the Bible. Does it trigger that story in your mind as well? I’m brought to the poor widow in Mark 12. Many rich people were tithing large amounts. The poor widow only dropped in a few coins, worth only a few cents. Yet Jesus in Mark 12: 43-44 said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on.”
Jane truly has the heart of Christ. She went through our half marathon training a couple of times as a resident, and then came back to help others achieve their goal. She has told us, “Through you guys, Jesus showed me the beauty of serving.” Having now moved away from the area, she is greatly missing being part of the team and encouraging others. However I can’t help but feel that she is the one that is the most missed.
Terrance trained for his first half marathon 2 seasons ago at Las Vegas Rescue Mission. Then he completed the program (at the mission) and moved home to Hawaii. He was certified as a personal trainer and began working at Orange Theory. He decided to transfer back to Las Vegas and help Orange Theory open a new location. He also wants to give back to Up and Running Again because of how it impacted his life. He has been volunteering with the current group. He is great for teaching running technique and really has a strong faith.
Thank you Glendora Ridge Runners for your support of Up And Running Again and Leon Laub for hosting a wonderful Christmas party. Eddie from the Orange County Rescue Mission shared his testimony how God and running has changed his life, receiving applause from the crowd when he finished his story. We are so thankful for the care and concern the Glendora Ridge Runners have for our program to encourage runners like Eddie. We are blessed by their generosity. Merry Christmas to all!
After starting our program a year ago, The San Diego Rescue Mission has started its third season of Up And Running Again for the men’s program and second season for the women’s. In the past year the mission has seen 19 mission residents finish their first Half Marathon including a URA record finishing time of 1:27:13. Godspeed to all of this seasons runners!
Below is blog entry written by Jeff from Orange County Rescue Mission.
When I first came to OCRM, I was at an all time spiritual low in life. I had turned my back to God and tried to embrace a life of sin for the better part of my adult life. After arriving here and laying around for a week God said get up and go see about this Up and Running Again program that my then roommate had told me about.The program had already been going a couple of weeks but I thought I would go out the next morning and see if I could join. I spoke with [Coach] Greg and he realized that running was a passion of mine and agreed to let me join.
So I began training for my first half marathon in early Feb 2016 (OC Marathon). Training was grueling at times and I didn’t think I was going to make it through. There was a three day period I had to stay off my feet and if I wasn’t able to run after those three days I was going to quit. I spent those days praying and being in the word. When those three days were up not only had this horrible knee pain gone but never returned. Finishing my first half marathon was a neat accomplishment but it took a backseat to the training that gave focus to my running for the first time in my life and the fellowship, mentoring, coaching and support I received from Greg and the Up and Running Again staff and volunteers was a true blessing.
I am ultra competitive so running a 2:07 time forty pounds over weight served to motivate me to take on a full marathon in Oct. 2016. I dumped 37 lbs of fat and added some muscle to my body and was able to complete the marathon in 3:54. The training wasn’t twice as hard as the half it was 10x as hard. Six day a week of hard long running for fourteen weeks.
Again Greg was instrumental in developing a training plan for me that worked and his expertise in endurance fitness is only surpassed by his spiritual mentoring and coaching. Twice he has been by my side as I limped my way across the finish line encouraging me right to the very end. In fact had Greg and my friend Ben not been there to encourage me I would have not finished the race when I did. I pulled a calf muscle right at the half way point, I was cruising to 1:50 first half and remembered thinking I can easily do better on the way in. Right then my calf popped. The only think I can liken it to is cracking your back it started in the middle of my calf and felt like it tore all the way down to my upper ankle. I thought if I stop I will never start again. I kept going but a hundred yards down the road or so , I had to stop the pain was too much. I prayed for God to please help me get through this and if it’s not meant to be let me let it go right away and move on. After massaging and praying I was able to start running again in moderate to pretty heavy pain at times until the 20 mile marker that is where the pain was to much to run continuously so it became a limp, run, walk for the last six miles.
To finish was bitter sweet. I missed my goal time by four minutes after hurting myself, which was still quite an accomplishment, but feel like I left a 3:40 or better time out there. It has been about eight days since the race and I feel good enough to try to run tomorrow. I’m going to start with 3 miles and see how it goes. I am going to do 8 weeks of leg strengthening in the gym and then start training for the LA marathon. I want to know what I am capable of. I hope one day to become part of the Up and Running Again team on a more permanent basis. What a great ministry.
After spending 56 training days with participants and hearing their life stories and investing in their lives, we often wonder where they go and what happens in their life after finishing their half marathon. Sometimes the runners come back to do another training and race with us. Sometimes they relapse and leave the mission. Other times they go on to move out, get a home, get married and get a job.
Recently we caught up with one of our alumni, David Noriega. David has had quite a journey. He was first arrested when he was 21 years old and then was in and out of jail for the next 13 years. He has battled through alcohol and drug addictions since he was 13 along with heroin and cocaine overdoses.
David joined our Up and Running Again program while he was living at the Orange County Rescue Mission. He trained for and completed his first half marathon in Long Beach in October of 2014. Then just 7 months later he finished a second half with us, the Laguna Hills Half Marathon.
During his time training he often prayed. “By the time I ran my first marathon, it was a healing process for me.” But, as with others sometimes, he relapsed. “It was necessary though because now I’m able to truly appreciate and value my sobriety. I ended up homeless in the desert of Victorville where I had a near death experience. I almost froze to death. But feeling spiritually dead and my kids being embarrassed and ashamed of their own father is what drove me back into recovery.”
He ended up going for help to the Midnight Mission in Los Angeles. There he connected with a group of runners that is led by a judge who wanted to help and see people on a different and more personal level than in his job.
Noriega’s foundation with running with Up and Running Again paved the way for his involvement with this new running group. This running group trains for all distances of races, including a full marathon internationally each year. This summer, on August 6, 2016, David had the opportunity to run the DaNong International Marathon in Vietnam.
The experience of running in another country exposed David to the conditions that others live in. He realized that he has so much that he takes for granted. He also has had a tough relationship with his children. He said, “From this marathon, I got amends for my kids. I was able to earn their respect,” he said. He also has had opportunities to share his experience with others. He shared at the UCLA school of medicine. On October 6 he will be speaking at the Golden Heart Awards in Beverly Hills.
Currently Noriega is an Assistant Volunteer Coordinator at the Midnight Mission, scheduling volunteers to feed the homeless community on Skidrow. He is currently looking for a full time job. During David’s training with Up and Running Again, he trained with Justin, who was another resident at the mission. Justin has since graduated from the mission and has been praying for David for a long time, even supporting him in his marathon trip. David says, “God is amazing. He gets all the honor and glory. I never forget you guys [Up and Running Again], especially coach Steve and Justin.