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Taking a Good Idea and Running With It: Inspiring People Through Fitness

By Mia Coen 

In 2008, Anne Mahlum would wake up every morning and go for a run through one of Philadelphia’s most unfortunate neighborhoods. She would jog by homeless people—many of whom became familiar, day after day—and greet them with waves and smiles. One day, an idea stopped her in her tracks: what if she invited them to go for a run?

She decided to found Philadelphia’s first Homeless Running Club. 

Today, the club is now a full-fledged program called Back On My Feet, with locations in Baltimore, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and, of course, Philadelphia. According to the mission statement, Back On My Feet is a nonprofit organization that promotes the self-sufficiency of the homeless population by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength, and self-esteem.

The program does not provide food nor does it provide shelter, but instead offers a community that embraces equality, respect, discipline, teamwork, and leadership. There are no labels, no stigmas, and no stereotypes. Members of Back on My Feet—regardless of race, education, or socioeconomic status—join together to move their own lives forward, as well as the lives of their teammates. 

Health clubs from around the world have also stepped up to support Back On My Feet and its mission. Life Fitness made a substantial donation to the organization back in June and the company’s employees donated their time as running mentors when the Chicago Chapter opened. Maryland Athletic Club also partnered with the organization and pledged to open its doors to Back On My Feet members when the weather is too inclement for running. 

“Running is such a beautiful metaphor for life,” reflects Anne Mahlum, founder and president of Back on My Feet. “Life is about choosing different roads, and our program teaches the importance of choosing roads filled with opportunity, hope, and happiness.”

To see the program in action, click the video below:

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