By: Kevin Brandon
Absolutely, thanks a ton for giving me the opportunity to share a few memories. PRTC is a pretty killer running group and I always enjoy myself when I get the chance to log miles with the club.
My journey to Philly was a roundabout one. I spent the first 18 years of my life in the amazing city of Danbury, Connecticut! If you haven’t had the pleasure of getting stuck in traffic in or around my city, please do yourself a favor and take a trip up I-84 sometime soon. Since graduating from Danbury High, where I ran cross-country and track, I moved to New Rochelle, NY to run for Iona College.
I was invited to stay on for a 5th year after losing an indoor and outdoor season freshman year (hit by a drunk driver while running). However, I knew professional running wasn’t in the cards so I used my 5th year to pursue a master’s degree in Social Work at Southern Connecticut State University. While studying there, I met someone from Bethlehem, PA. After graduation, I decided to “chase true love” to the Christmas City. It turns out I am not John Cusack and life isn’t a Rom Com and the relationship went south quickly…. but I dug the Lehigh Valley and there was a great running community so I decided to stay.
A lot of group runs and a few races later, I met another lady by the name of Tiffany. After a while we decided to change things up and began looking for a new location. Meanwhile, I had been hearing great things about Back on My Feet. The more I learned about the organization, the more I wanted to be a part of it. After a ton of interviews, I was lucky to join the BoMF Philly family in June of 2014.
I started logging miles in 1996 when my cousin who ran cross country for Danbury High would invite me out for an occasional run. After that, running took absolute precedence in my life after I won a middle school cross country race in 7th grade. I remember falling in love with the feeling of confidence after pulling away from the rest of the field.
Once you began running, how did your career develop? Take us through day one to today.
I was very fortunate during the first half of my running career. I quickly fell in love with the daily grind and experienced rapid improvement each season. With excellent coaching and great leadership I was able to finish my sophomore year as one of the top two milers in New England. Additionally, I was lucky enough to be a part of a team of other talented and hardworking runners which left us ranked 10th nationally my senior year. (I’m still a little salty about that ranking seeing as we beat both the 7th and 9th team head to head at the Manhattan invitational that year). We won our state and New England cross country titles and broke the outdoor state and New England 4×800 record. Needless to say, I feel really lucky I got to share a ton of amazing memories with those guys.
What was it like running for a top program like Iona? Can you give us some highlights from your time there?
I entered Iona during the fall of 2001. I vividly remember the surreal feeling of walking through campus during my first few days there. All of the miles and time spent working towards my goal of wearing gold and maroon had finally paid off. However, we (freshman) found out very quickly just how real things got when the upperclassmen wanted to let loose. One of my favorite memories from Iona was when coach Mick Bryne (now Wisconsin’s head coach) sat us freshman down and said, “You are all very big fish in very little ponds, welcome to the NCAA.” 75 minutes later I had to stop and walk for the first time during a run due to exhaustion. This was Mick’s way of telling us young guns to stay in our lane. It was then that I realized my past credentials didn’t mean shit.
Sadly I didn’t listen and spent the first three years there overtraining while trying to keep up with some world class teammates. However, I started to smarten up my senior year and ran some decent races. That year I was part of our National squad that finished 8th at NCAA championships. I was on the 1200 meter leg of our DMR that wound up winning IC4A’s indoors and I was 2nd twice at IC4A’s steeple (always the bridesmaid, never the bride!).
Regarding your running future, what are your near and long-term goals?
This has been the million dollar question for me since finishing up at Southern. Running has taken on many different meanings in my life. I struggled for years trying to find an identity outside of being a competitive runner. At this point, I take great joy in seeing others transform their lives through running. I absolutely go through periods where I’d like to put something together, but it’s not a priority for me anymore. I’m super proud of my past accomplishments and have finally learned to keep running in my life for balance. However, if you ask me again in a few months I could have a totally different answer. If I feel good and can string some harder workouts together, I’d be all for jumping in a race or two.
Back on My Feet is an organization that combines running and homelessness outreach. How did you land at the group and what is your role there?
Yeah, Back on My Feet is amazing! We serve men and women who are in transition using running as a platform for change. We have the most amazing members and the BEST volunteers who come out to support those members working through their current barriers. We have four different running groups that meet in different locations throughout the city every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5:30 – 6:30am. We’re always looking for new volunteers, so if you’re an early riser and want to meet some pretty killer peeps please come be a part of someone’s change.
Over the past 3.5 years I’ve filled multiple roles with BoMF. I was initially brought on to work directly with members and was responsible for overseeing their progress through the program. I currently serve as the program director, essentially responsible for managing members, volunteers, and program partners.
Can you tell us about the thesis behind Back on My Feet? As someone with a front-seat view, how do you see it working?
You wouldn’t usually talk about homelessness, recovery, or incarceration in the same sentence as running. However, it totally makes sense when you look into the program a little deeper. When members join, 99% of the time they come to us with little to no running history. Just going a block or two can be super challenging. However, when they stick with it and start to notice the improvements they’re making, the same infectious feelings we all experience while running happens to them as well. Progress with running carries over to their professional and personal lives. When they begin to experience weight loss, when their doctors tell them they no longer need to take certain medications, when they have less of a need for cigarettes week to week… they start to think differently. We tend to see a direct correlation between a member’s ability to achieve running goals in the morning and meeting their personal and professional goals during the day. I could go on for hours, but honestly it’s amazing each time it happens. After members have been a part of the program and have sufficient attendance, we assist with job-placement, housing and training/education.
What are your most rewarding days like at work? The most challenging?
I can honestly say that we have way more “amazing” days at BoMF than “challenging”. We get to be a part of hundreds of people’s journeys towards self-sufficiency each year. Seeing members get the keys to their new home never gets old. However, we do serve many people who struggle with mental health and addiction issues. Taking a couple steps backwards for some is something we have and will continue to see.
Do you see any ways in which PRTC and BoMF could collaborate? If someone from PRTC wanted to volunteer with BoMF how could they go about doing so?
I would love to see or hear about any collaborative ideas we could act upon between PRTC and BoMF! I know there are many people currently looking for ways to be a part of change. Although we do a great job at coming up with new and fun fundraising opportunities year in and year out; coming out once a week to run and support a member is probably the best way to get involved.
Do you have any non-running related hobbies, hidden skills or talents we may enjoy hearing about?
I’ll do anything to be outside including hiking, weekend trips, and walking my Rottie, but over the past two years I’ve really gotten into working on my marksmanship. I find my visits to the range to be super therapeutic and fun. Other than that I take a ton of trips with my wife which was I make it to so few runs on weekend. I think we’re going to try and take a bit of a down year from traveling in 2017 though, so I’m hoping to see a lot more of you guys!