Anthony Moore and David Bayo were homeless until the Back On My Feet road racing program got them out of their shelter beds at 5:30 a.m., four days a week, to pound the pavement until they were strong enough to endure the 10-mile Blue Cross Broad Street Run.
After joining nearly 40,000 runners for Sunday's race, Moore, thrilled to complete his first Broad Street Run, said, "I ran down Broad Street and saw where I used to be drinking beer and smoking, watching the runners go by and thinking, 'What are they doing? Are they crazy?' "
Moore laughed. "Today, I was on the other side of the street," he said, "physically stronger, pushing forward, not wanting to give up until I finished."
Moore credits the people at Back On My Feet (BOMF), a Philly-based nonprofit that rescues people from homelessness and the downward spiral of despair through its crack-of-dawn distance training at nine shelters.
"When they first told me I'd have to wake up at 5 a.m., I was like, 'No!' " he said. "But those people embrace you so much – hugs, cheers, the Serenity Prayer. I'm 33. I never knew about this before." He laughed. "And tomorrow morning?" he said. "You know I'll be running again."
The Broad Street Run has long been a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society and a wide range of other charities — like BOMF —that address medical and social issues.
Bayo, 49, one of Moore's 11 fellow formerly homeless Back On My Feet runners, finished his eighth consecutive Broad Street Run, and said he was in a recovery house in late 2009 when the racers in the track suits and running shoes showed up and offered him a way out. Build up enough points with a 90 percent attendance record at those early morning workouts, they said, and Back On My Feet helps pay the security deposit on an apartment, and other essential living expenses.
"I'd run in high school, then took a 25-year break," Bayo said. "To be honest, the turning point came when I entered a 5K [3.1 mile] race in 2010. Everybody thought I was crazy. I ran 14th out of 400 people. That was the epiphany. I said, 'Oh my God! After 25 years, I'm racing against 20-year-olds and I placed 14th? I'm going to keep doing this.' "
Bayo wasn't worried about his time on Sunday, running down Broad Street, pausing to take photos at Temple University, where he once went to school, then shooting a video going around City Hall. He said he's calmed down during his eight Broad Street Runs. He used to fill his pockets with confetti and toss it at spectators, sharing his joy at having a home and a steady job as a printer that the discipline of distance running has brought him.
Joyful emotions were fueling thousands of the racers, including Ashley Estes from Manayunk, who decided to celebrate her 30th birthday by doing her first Broad Street Run, symbolizing her determination to "run through my 30s," she said, without fear of aging. "Getting older is getting wisdom," Estes said. "Embrace it!"
She, her husband, Anthony, and six friends – all first-time Broad Street Run racers -- formed Running Through the City with My Woes (a play on a Drake lyric), printed it on cool black T-shirts, trained together on Kelly Drive, and found the race down Broad Street easier because "you don't have a cheering crowd on Kelly Drive," Estes said. "It makes you feel like this really is the City of Brotherly Love."
Along the final mile as the race neared the Navy Yard finish line, Sida Din from Northeast Philly and her friend Peggan Ung from Olney held a big poster reading "Move Those Sexy Legs" to encourage Din's boyfriend, Phin Chansaka, to make it to the finish line.
Colleen Hall from Downingtown, whose plan to run in the race was derailed by a recent training injury, wore butterfly wings bearing the names of 50 friends who were victims of, or are battling, cancer. "As I was putting all the names on the wings, I started crying," Hall said.
But she was upbeat and she and her friend Sherry Szymborski, a breast cancer survivor from Honeybrook whose parents are both battling cancer, cheered the runners on.
Holding his daughter Marley, 2, while his son Kaeson, 8, encouraged runners by ringing a cowbell, Jose Gonzalez from South Jersey cheered his wife, Puikee, and his sister-in-law Winnie Ho as they ran past together, smiling.