Leon Williams is a 56 year old Marine Corp Veteran. On Saturday, November 3rd, he ran his first half marathon. Running is now a part of Leon's story.
I sat down with Leon and talked to him about his life before he became a runner. Two years ago if you met him, you would have met someone who had just lost their job and their home.
"For seven years, I had a good job, but I wasn't doing anything with the money, I was kind of chasing my tail; like a revolving door. I lost that job because I failed a drug test, I lost everything I had and that's how I wound up homeless." said Leon, "Right now, I look back and say to myself, losing my job was a good thing, because I was eventually able to stay in one spot and get myself and my life together."
He checked into the Lighthouse at Wheeler Mission. Wheeler Mission's goal is to provide Christ-centered programs and services for the homeless and those in need. While staying there, he headed out every morning to look for work. He wanted to find work, but had no mode of transportation and felt as though he was on pins and needles with getting his life in order. He couldn't find a job.
After a short time at the Lighthouse, Leon heard about HVAF of Indiana, (HVAF) whose mission is to improve the lives of homeless veterans by providing supportive housing and services that empower them. He moved into one of their housing units in August, 2011.
Leon sharing a smile with the crowd while on his way to completing his first half marathon.
Two weeks after moving into HVAF, Leon was introduced to Back on My Feet, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to creating independence and self-sufficiency within the homeless and other underserved populations by first engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem.
At first he thought that running sounded crazy, "In the past, I was the type of person that if I could take a short cut, that's what I would do", said Leon, "but I joined the organization and I'm glad I did. I'm in the best shape of my life, it's given me the opportunity to be around positive people and it's all worked out for the better. I've been able to find employment and don't have to worry about being outdoors. "
Leon has been a committed Member of Back on My Feet for 15 months now. Members are expected to maintain a 90 percent attendance, running three days a week at 5:45am. This commitment enables them to be eligible to gain access to educational, job training and employment opportunities, as well as financial aid.
He has run many 5Ks, but in June, he decided to make the serious commitment to train for the Monumental half marathon. "As soon as Leon made the decision to train for the half, his attendance, attitude and overall health improved immensely." said Jamie Cox, Executive Director for Back on My Feet Indianapolis. "We are so excited about the future that's in store for Leon, his story is just one of many successes we see come through the program."
Leon finished the half marathon with a smile on his face and all the confidence in the world with a time of 2:07:13. He is currently employed at the Amazon warehouse in Plainfield, working Sunday-Wednesday 6:00pm-4:30am. He runs with Back on My Feet Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 5:45am, so on Mondays and Wednesdays, after working all night for 10.5 hours, he heads out to circle up with Back on My Feet Residential Members and volunteers to run. He shows up because he's committed, not only to the run itself, but also to his teammates.
BoMF's Lindsey Hein, Leon Williams and IMM's Casey Collins in a debriefing session earlier this month.
Leon plans to move into his own home this coming summer. He wants to stay nearby where his team runs, so that he can continue running with them. He is now in a place where he wants to give back and be a mentor to other individuals who are going through tough times. As someone who has faced adversity, he wants to use his story to encourage and motivate others. He is proof that even if life gets rough, if you stay positive and utilize the resources out there, you can get back on your feet.
"The joy I get out of running is, it calms me down, when I get stressed, I go out for a nice real long run." - Leon Williams
For more information about Back on My Feet:
Director of Communications and Corporate Relations
Back on My Feet Indianapolis