Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tri to End Homelessnes Race Report: Homerun For the Homeless 5k

Today was my first 5k in years. Since I'm fundraising for Back on My Feet, the Colorado Rockies Home Run For the Homeless was an obvious choice. The cause was only the first of many things that made the race great, including running on the track around the perimeter of Coors Field, professional timing chips (the Blaster Blast tri did the timing by hand), organized volunteers, and a post race party in Coors Stadium that included free beer, hot dogs, and slushies in addition to the usual post-race bagels and bananas.

Mile 0-1 (~8:49)
My goal for the race was to run less than 10 minute miles. Little did I know that the first half of the race would essentially be an obstacle course. The race included walkers and there was no separating the walkers from the runners. By the time I reached mile marker 1 there were still walkers everywhere.

Mile 1-2 (~9:45)  
Mile 2 felt longer than I expected. Most of my runs are 6+ miles. I had it in my head that a 5k would be a hop skip and a jump but 30 minutes of hard running is still taxing and weaving in and out of walkers took extra energy. By mile 1.5 the walkers thinned out but as I approached mile 2 the rolling hills kicked in.

Mile 2-3 (~9:06mi)
The hills made my calves feel like lead. I started kicking myself for working out the day before. My legs were tired and people were driving up the hill past me as I putted along. I reminded myself of my goal and just put one foot in front of the other as we pushed on to the track inside Coors Field. By the time I hit the field it was flat again and I felt great. They had the jumbotron on us as we ran the perimeter of the field, which is much larger than it looks on TV. The end was near!

Mile 3-3.1 (~2:24)
The last push was fantastic. I took everything in me as I drove to the finish line. By the time I crossed the line I could not run another step. This is how you are supposed to feel at the end of a race! While I hoped for a better time I felt confident that I put everything I had into the race. I could have done better if I trained smarter by resting but that is a lesson that I will take with me to the Boulder Boulder 10k on Memorial day. Tomorrow will be resting and then it's back to work!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tri to End Homelessness Race Report: Blaster Blast

After several months of training, my triathlon season finally started this morning.

My alarm started buzzing at 6am but it didn't matter, I was tossing and turning since 2. I bundled up in the clothes I laid out the night before, tossed a yogurt in my bag, and hopped on my bike to ride that mile and a half to the start of the race at Colorado School of Mines. Before this morning I never rode with temps below 60f but when I headed out the door at 6:30 it was 36f, and the temp staid at 36f throughout the entire race.

Upon arrival I knew that this was going to be different from the races I'd done before, and not just because it was a pool swim. There were no assigned spots for the bikes, there were no timing chips, and I somehow ended up with number 2. Being number 2 made me nervous because the low numbers are usually for the elites and I'm far from an elite racer!

The swim was a 400yd swim/8 times down and back. The swim was in heats by age and I was in the second heat, I guess the average triathlete is older than I thought? As I was busy being nervous about being number 2 and in an early heat it turned out that number 1 was facing the same crisis. We found each other and shared our woes, and it turned out that we were assigned to share a lane. This really helped me to calm down and get my bearings.

I originally thought it was going to be warmer out but the cold threw me for a loop. Instead of swimming in my new tri gear and freezing for the rest of the race, I decided to swim in tight running shorts and a sports bra covered with a tank top.

The start of the swim was a little confusing but once I made it into the pool I was off and strong. My breathing was consistent and strong, my turn-around (I don't do flip turns) at the end of the pool was seamless, and my weaker right arm held up to the test. Unfortunately, I had it in my head that it was an 800yd swim and was expecting to do 16 times down and back so I was surprised when a volunteer was trying to get my attention to get out of the pool at the end of lap 8. I lost a couple seconds there and was mad at myself because I would have worked harder if I realized that it was only half the distance that I thought. But there wasn't time to be mad for long. I towel dried myself before running back out into the cold.

I spent almost as long in the transition area as in the pool? Oops. But it was time well spent because I dried off before I went outside and put on dry shorts and a top before taking off on the bike. The cold was a shock, but not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. At this point I was glad that they didn't reverse the race.

I quickly stripped off the tank and wet shorts (yes, I did race this one with underwear, I wasn't about to wear those wet shorts for the bike and run!). I wished that I had a looser pair of pants as I struggled with my running tights but it was worth it. For top layers ended up going with just a turtleneck sports top and an unzipped fleece jacket. I pulled on my socks, strapped on my cleats, put on my helmet and took off to start the ride.

Bike-8 miles-32:05
I was pleasantly surprised that I was not cold for the entire 8 miles.

The course was incredibly boring, 13 loops in a residential area. The upside was that there was a bit of a hill in the middle of it but the hill, coupled with the constant turns, meant that I spent nearly zero time in "aero" (the preferable position for triathletes, when you have bars off the end of your handle bars that you lean down on, it's more aerodynamic but I'm so slow that I'm sure it doesn't help much).

Bikers were everywhere, passing on the left and right without warning. I almost hocked a loogie on one. As I went around and around and around I wished that I had a counter of some sort, all I could think of the whole time was "I finished lap 1, 12 to go, 1, 1, 1, 1, okay, that was the end of lap 2, 11 to go, 2, 2, 2, 2..." I think I did exactly 13 laps but it's entirely possible that I lost count somewhere in there. With the heats in the pool and now the loops I gave up on making any estimate for how I was actually doing (I don't wear a watch when I race, though this one made me think that I should go get one asap).

As I crossed back into the transition area it was time for the million dollar question, do I keep on the jacket or do I lose it and just run in the turtle neck? I mulled it over as I tied my shoes, grabbed my pack of cliff blocks (basically fruit snacks for adults), and chugged some Gatorade. "Ditch it." I decided and I was off.

Ditching the jacket was the right choice. The run started off with a downhill, which I couldn't fully enjoy because I knew that two and a half miles later I'd be climbing back up it. The rest of the course was on a bike/running path that I run regularly. Because of the heats in the swim it wasn't too congested. I didn't pass anyone but no one passed me. There were few enough runners that everyone was encouraging each other as we chugged along (I love that about triathlons). The course was out and back so I was very excited when I saw the volunteer and knew that it was time to turn around. I ran strong, monitoring my breathing closely as I chugged up the final hill to the finish. Almost 33 minutes is a bit slower than I hoped but the course included a few brutal hills, including the last leg to the finish, so I'm happy with the pace overall.

The End
The finish was anti-climatic. Maybe it was the dreary weather or the few spectators or maybe the mom-and-pop nature of the race itself. I felt like I could have raced harder but now that it's about 4 hours later I'm starting to crash so that might have been the adrenaline talking. Regardless, I'm ready to get back to training so I can be even stronger at my next race.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tri to End Homelessness

"Marathon Monday" 2007 changed my life. On that day, I made some remark about how I could never do that but a friend told me that I should try it. The next day I went out for my first run and I haven't stopped running since. Almost exactly a year later another friend convinced me to sign up for a triathlon with her. Training changed everything. The stress of the daily grind melted away, even on the bad days I still felt like I accomplished something. I want to give that experience to others who need it.

This year I'm doing a series of Olympic length triathlons to fund-raise for Back on My Feet. Founded in 2007, Back On My Feet (BoMF) is a is a nonprofit organization that promotes the self-sufficiency of people experiencing homelessness by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength, and self-esteem. While the actual home is the key to helping people move from homelessness to housing, confidence and self worth are necessary for people to be able to sustain their housing.

Consider the following expenses for BoMF:
$5          Socks
$10        Shorts
$7          Shirts
$15        Pants
$10        Long Sleeved Shirts
$20        Jacket
$20        Hat and Gloves
$100      Race Entry Fees
$175      Running Shoes
$200      Mileage Incentives
$250      Social Outings and Celebration
$1,250   Housing, Education and Employment assistance

After in-kind donations, the total cost per person in the program is $1,800, which is why I chose $1,800 as my fund-raising goal.

The best part is that I will dedicate workouts to you!
Donations of up to $25 will get one workout (swim, bike, or run, you pick).
Donations of $26-$50 will get two workouts.
Donations of more than $50 will get all 3 workouts.

I will dedicate each race to the person (or persons, feel free to poll your money with friends) who have the highest donation at the time of the race.

And remember, $5 is a pair of socks so even the smallest donation can have an impact on BoMF.

To donate please visit my fundraising website.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The 15-Year-Old Who Changed Everything

I come from a world of privilege. I grew up in a suburban city with a small town feel. My folks were high school sweethearts and bought their current house before I was born. My family has seen very few divorces, no juvi involvement, and no problems with substance use (or at least none that were talked about). When my dad’s friends come over, there are impromptu jazz jam sessions. Sometimes it feels like I’m living in a sitcom where everything wraps up neatly in the end of every episode with hugs abound and hopeful music rising up in the background as the screen fades to black and the credits begin to roll.
When I first finished college I worked in a residential home for youth in state custody. Coming from my background, it was hard to understand the kids that I worked with. I would never dream of talking to my parents or other adults like that. Why didn’t they just understand that the sooner that they buckled down and followed the rules the sooner they would get more privileges? I received training on how to work effectively with the youth and as I learned their stories I began to think that I understood. But it wasn’t until now, seven years after I first stepped in the door at that first job, that I think I might actually be starting to get it.
Last weekend I met the fifteen-year-old who changed everything. Chad is the little brother of a friend. Said friend and Chad recently moved over 1,000 miles away from the city that Chad grew-up in. Before moving, Chad was living in a crack house and once sold his father a glob of wax by telling him that it was crack. One week after leaving, Chad’s father and best friend were both in jail for different offenses.
Chad made me realize how complex the lives of the youth I worked with are. When I talked to him sometimes I was talking to a fifteen-year-old but most of the time he seemed at least twenty-one. How he would have hated to be placed where I worked! The rules and lack of autonomy would have smothered him. He would have been one of the kids who I accidentally found myself in power struggles with. He would have thought that I was naive and stupid.  But sitting there in my friend’s living room we were both just people talking about TV. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Burn Out

Whoa, that was quite the hiatus.

Blogging about homelessness is depressing. You watch the same stories of funding cuts and rising numbers of people who are homeless cycle through over and over and over. New programs sprinkle in optimism but it starts to feel like nothing is changing. Eventually, I burnt out.

Burn out is a huge hurdle for human services. Energetic people, especially young people, come to human services with a sense of optimism. They are going to save lives. So many of them walk away, bitter and confused, after only a few years. Nobody ever told them that they wouldn't be doing the saving. Their supervisors didn't teach them to leave their job at the door when they went home at night, if they had supervisors.

When I looked at the tags I've used in the past, I realized that "self care" was never one of them. Maybe because I wasn't doing a good job of it myself? I'm one of those optimistic young people who is at greatest risk of forgetting to put my own self care first.

This time, I'm going to try blogging as a form of self care. Even with all of the depressing stories, blogging reminds me why I do the work I do. It's not so I can help "those" people, it's so "they" can help me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Homeless, The Mentally Ill, and The Ignorant

Meds Can Reduce Homelessness, but The Homeless (and Advocates) Don't Get It
Huffington Post, October 20, 2009
Some advocates for the homeless believe that housing is a ‘right’ and are devoid of any responsibilities, like taking medicines. Other advocates for the homeless want to present the homeless as being high-functioning well-educated, previously employed individuals who are temporarily down on their luck. I don’t deny this may be true for the majority of homeless, but these advocates shouldn’t deny there is a giant percentage who don’t fit this mold.
I should have known from the title that reading this article was a very bad idea. What this writer doesn't get is that it isn't as easy as saying "you need medication." We're all in situations where we know what is "good for us" but make choices to do different things instead.

I have severe hearing loss in my right ear, it started when I was in the second grade. My left ear was pretty close to normal so I tried a hearing aid in the right ear in elementary school but it didn't help much so I stopped using it. I had to say "what?" a lot and people sometimes thought I was ignoring them but I found ways to get by, usually undetected.

In middle school I nearly failed a class one quarter because it was lecture based and I needed to have a notetaker for one of my college classes but I just blamed it on the teachers voices.

I worked in residential care with adolescents for a few years. I couldn't hear when kids were talking to me if they were on the "bad" side and I couldn't hear the gossiping or the plotting. At that time I briefly considered getting a hearing aid but I was off to grad school in a few months so I decided to let it slide.

I went to grad school, did fine, got out, and got a job.

More recently my work began to suffer. I do a lot of training and I couldn't hear the questions that were asked. When it got to the point where I couldn't hear conversation at the quiet dinner table I knew I needed to seek out some help.

As soon as I got a hearing aid I began to realize that what was "normal" for me for so long was no where near "normal" for other people. During all of that time up to now I thought I was functioning just fine, that I had a grip on things. Now I'm starting to realize how much more successful I would have been if I just stuck with that hearing aid that I had in the third grade rather than going it on my own.

How am I any different from the person who decides that they feel better without their meds? The person who says "I don't need meds, I can make it on my own"? Or the person who says "I can't afford my meds so I'll have to give it a shot without them"? I am no different, and neither are you.

These are people who are experiencing homelessness and mental illness, NOT "the homeless mentally ill." This writer never once referred to them as "people," he just called them by their illness and their housing situation. That is not what makes a person a person. I am not a "hearing impaired." I am a colleague, a friend, a blogger, a daughter, and maybe someday a mother. Or maybe someday homeless. But none of these things alone will ever define who I am.

Please think before labeling people. It just makes you sound ignorant, especially when you label yourself as an advocate for "the ___". How about "homelessness," "treatment for mental illness," or "people experiencing homelessness/mental illness" instead?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Motel Life

Motel Life
Denver Post

This is a heartfelt multi-media presentation put together by the Denver Post. It consists of three short segments of photos and audio of three families that are avoiding the shelter system by staying in motels. These families love each other and are doing what they can to pull through together. It's definitely worth a watch.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Us and Them

Maybe you've seen it already. Maybe you still don't believe that it's happening. Or maybe it's you. Around the country people who never dreamed of becoming homeless, people who have well paying jobs, people who own BMW's, and people who thought they had a safety net are finding themselves joining the ranks that they once thought only consisted of addicts, the weak, and the mentally ill.

Identity Crisis Accompanies VA Family's Financial Slide
Washington Post, October 6, 2009

Ron Vazquez was not a drunk. Not a drug addict. Not mentally ill.

For weeks, he repeated those phrases to himself and to anyone else who would listen. He and his wife used to fight over walk-in closet space and which BMW to buy. Yolanda Vazquez is the quintessential PTA mom -- organized and energetic. Ron's the classic Little League coach -- involved and enthusiastic. They were not drunks. Not drug addicts. Not mentally ill.

They were not homeless. Except that now, they are.

The Vazquezs are not alone. Around the country families that never dreamed that they would find themselves in a shelter are there. But they still see themselves as different from the "real" homeless people. As the oldest daughter says "This is where I live. It's not who I am." While I don't think the family should view themselves as derelicts and the scum of society, it saddens me that families that find themselves in this situation don't see the humanity in the "real" homeless people. There are plenty of people who struggle with alcoholism and mental illness but do have stable jobs and high salaries. Some of them have their illness under control while others are just successful at hiding their illness. Either way "those people" pass as one of "us" every day.

We are no different from "them." All that makes us different is that in this crazy world some of us have it easy and some of us didn't. The next time you see someone panhandling, or sleeping on a park bench, or slipping into a shelter remember that they shouldn't be pitied and you can't "save" them. Remember that if things were different you could be them and think about how you would want them to treat you if the tables were turned. Because, no matter what you feel, "they" are one of "us" too.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Current Trends in Denver Colorado

I recently moved to Golden Colorado, about a half hour from both Denver and Boulder. We moved here for the mountains and change of scenery. I'm proud of my new home but now I have something to be even prouder of.

Denver is making great strides in their struggle with homelessness, and I'm not talking about the parking meters for donations (is there any research on whether those do anything?).

Mayor Hickenlooper Beefs Up Homeless Funding
Denver Post, September 30, 2009

At a time when Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has proposed freezing city salaries, laying off 176 employees and slashing library hours, he has decided to boost spending to battle homelessness.

The mayor's proposed 2010 budget would transfer $2.3 million in general-fund money next year to homeless programs, the second year in a row in which those programs have received money from the general fund.

Why is he doing this? Is he a kind compassionate soul? Maybe, but his argument is hitting at the wallets of the tax payers: it's cheaper to provide them services than have them in jails and emergency rooms. Since 2006, bookings of people experiencing homelessness are down by half and police calls related by homelessness have also decreased since 2006. That alone is a huge cost savings.

Where is the money going? 500 new housing units to add to the existing 1,500 units. This particular article doesn't get into whether Denver is like Boston and adopting a housing first approach or if there is a focus on services as well. Another article I ran across addresses funding cuts for homeless seniors, but, unfortunately, that is how the game is played. There is only so much money to go around and helping one population means neglecting another.

How long will it last? Who knows, politicians are notorious for having to make tough decisions, but the article indicates that Hickenlooper hopes to continue this commitment for 20 years.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Gwen Thompson: The Homeleess American Girl Doll

Meet Gwen Thompson, the Homeless American Girl
ABC News September 25th, 2009
In a storybook that details the doll's life, Gwen's mother revealed, "I woke up one morning to learn that my husband had left us, and my daughter and I were evicted -- truly homeless. I always thought homelessness happened to other people. Never to me."

Ms. Thompson goes on to describe their destitute lifestyle, "At first, my daughter and I slept in our car. I'd park so that we'd wake up near a wayside rest area or restaurant - somewhere where we could use the sink for washing up - and then I'd go to work and pretend that life was just as it had always been."

I'm not sure what Matel is trying to accomplish with this $95 doll? At first I thought it was completely absurd but then I remembered my favorite childhood game: orphans. My three cousins, two brothers, and I would all gather in my grandmother's basement and pretend that we were orphans hiding out because we didn't want to go to the orphanage. Same thing when we "played trools" (blast from the past!), they were always orphans (though I think the trolls lived in an orphanage). Kids aren't immune to sad situations.

But why would mom choose Gwen when there are options for dolls with much happier stories? The moms who need Gwen to normalize their situation and help their daughters understand that they aren't alone are not going to shell out $95 on a doll. I think that with the right donation or fundraising campaign this doll could do a lot of good. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like there was any such campaign in mind when they created the doll.