TWO MEN LACE UP THEIR RUNNING SHOES AND TIE TOGETHER A COMMUNITY
Written by Christina Scalera | Photography by Alan Brooks
Vince Smith joined Weight Watchers with the goal of shedding pounds and gaining energy. Choosing to share his journey socially through personal posts to his Facebook account, Smith received encouragement and support from friends, acquaintances and even strangers. What started as a common weight loss pursuit quickly turned into something greater when, only a few months into his calorie counting, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
This detour is not only where his story differs, but perhaps also where his real pilgrimage began.
The correlation between happiness and having a purpose in life is well documented by psychologists. Fulfilling a purpose helps us achieve goals, from something as small as getting the house cleaned to as large as completing a marathon. Often, a significant part of being successful stems from local support whether rooted in sports, religion or charity, as each provides the opportunity to spotlight the needs of others. When, on occasion, these dedicated lights converge, the effect is expansive, as the person giving back realizes reciprocating.
What would have been a devastating blow for many, Smith took as an opportunity to help others. As the executive director for The Gateway Center in Atlanta, he has spent almost 10 years providing support and a continuum of care to individuals as they gain the necessary tools to move beyond homelessness. Along with the cancer diagnosis last September came the unflappable resolve to run 12 races, all 5K distances (3.1 miles), before the end of 2014.
“I decided to do that when encouraged by the folks at Orion Racing. They believed that could be a goal that could be achieved,” Smith said, adding, “There are so many things happening in my life, it became a personal challenge to myself amidst many other challenges that I have no control over. This one I can manage.”
Not only was he bringing awareness to an often overlooked cancer, he was encouraging others — with or without cancer — to make the best of their lives “with the time and energy [they] have left.”
In true Smith fashion, the 64 year old hit the ground running by finishing three 5K races in a 24-hour period, with the help of daylight savings: one in North Fulton in the morning, a second in Piedmont Park which he started late but managed to finish and the third, a race called Finish Before You Start, held at Town Center in Kennesaw during the time change.
“For me, running is a time of peace and solitude. I see lots of faces from my life’s past and I have an opportunity to pray for those individuals,” Smith said. “I find that [as a result] my spirit gets brighter and my head gets clearer.”
His face lit up when he talked about the finish line at each race. He doesn’t recall how tired his muscles felt or whether he beat his personal best — only the smiles and enthusiasm others expressed for him when he finished each race.
“Always in the run, there’s a moment where you don’t think you can do it. Those thoughts of ‘This is too hard’ come in, but you dig deep in your soul and keep putting one foot in front of the other,” Smith said.
Ade Olude is the founder of AdeTheVeganRunner.com; he is an Atlanta-based ultra marathoner that has run multiple races of more than 100 miles; he is a former professional soccer player and Olude is currently experiencing homelessness.
Even though he has no idea where he will be living next week, or what he will eat each day, he is filled with smiles and joy. Why? Olude describes his as a life of total freedom.
“Everything people are afraid to lose, I have lost,” Olude said. His purpose when running is to raise awareness for the homeless.
Olude runs to show others what is possible when life has taken everything comfortable and familiar away from you. He runs to show the world that those without homes are not all drug-addicts and mentally incapacitated.
“It is not as difficult to be homeless as it is to deal with other’s apathy,” he relayed with conviction. Olude first crossed paths with Smith a couple of years ago when he walked into The Gateway Center and joined a program called Life Changers.
“I want to get to know the men that are here and let them know we are in it together,” Smith said. “I’ve always said that these are not homeless individuals; they are people that matter who are experiencing homelessness.”
As Smith began to learn about Olude’s running and the way in which it encouraged his life, he continued to have personal conversations with him, helping the long-distance runner through a tough patch until he was able to move forward and leave the center. Last month, Smith sent 12 men like Olude — discouraged and empty in spirit — back into their communities with 12 full-time “livable wage jobs.”
“We’re all running a journey. We’re all in this together so when somebody needs help along the way, you give them an arm, help get them on their feet and they pick up the pace again,” Smith said.
He and Olude, like many before them and those that will find their way after, have merged the running community with their own life purpose, bringing their personal causes to the forefront.
The New Goal
These men are not celebrities nor did they wait until someone gave them validation to act. They signed up and ran because they had dedicated themselves to a higher cause of their choice.
Regardless of which path we take to get there or why, finding a passion and purpose larger than ourselves can be one of the best motivators for creating change. This year, both men will toe the line several times together in a brand new race series coming to Atlanta next month. For Olude, it’s a warm-up for much longer races on his calendar; for Smith, however, it will be his longest run to date and a new goal for the year.
“The Gateway Center is a beneficiary of the Hotlanta Half Marathon, so I’m running my first half with the longterm
goal of finishing a marathon distance over the course of the year,” Smith said excitedly.
“The ATL Race Series is an exciting new event involving a unique distance,” said Victoria Seahorn, race director for The ATL Race Series and seasoned runner, whose unconventional idea is likely to become a popular new pastime for runners of all abilities.
“The quarter marathon is a bit different from the usual 10k, as it is a 6.55-mile race,” she said, adding, “The ATL
Race Series allows runners to participate in three different events throughout the year, including the virtual quarter marathon [this spring], the Hotlanta Half Marathon in the summer and the ATL Quarter Marathon in the fall. I think runners will truly enjoy this series as it will keep them motivated throughout the year and enable them to attain that 26.2 mile goal.”
Finishers of all three races will receive their ATL Race Series 26.2 medal as they cross the finish line November 15. Whether you see Smith and Olude or not, remember their spirit as you lace up your own shoes and take a step toward change.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
To learn more about Vince follow him on Twitter @vincesmith247 and Ade on his website AdeTheVeganRunner.com
The ATL Race Series:
* Quarter Marathon (virtual race done within a timeframe) – April 20-26, 2015
* Hotlanta Half Marathon – Aug. 23, 2015
* Quarter Marathon – Nov. 15, 2015
Visit hotlantahalf.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.