In August I will be celebrating my 20th year at The Attention Home, the Youth Homes’ shelter for youth in Missoula. During that time over 3000 youth have come through our doors. I consider it a privilege to have worked with so many amazing kids, families and coworkers. Deciding to run the Missoula Marathon to honor them makes sense for many reasons. While the work we do brings many rewards, it can also be a challenge; exercise has been my main stress management tool. I also feel that the challenges a marathon brings mirrors in many ways the challenges I see working with kids.
Many members of Run Wild will be joining me in running the Missoula Marathon and Half Marathon in support of the Youth Homes. They use the stories of the kids to inspire them during training and during the race and raise money to support The Youth Homes. You can check out all their pages by going to: www.firstgiving.com/youthhomes and clicking on the Missoula Marathon and Half Marathon link on the right side of the page. There are some amazing and inspiring stories there.
When I started at the Youth Homes my first feelings were ones of sadness at the stories I heard, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, poverty, mental illness and the mental and psychological effect of generations of substance abuse. All of the kids were affected by these, most of them by more than one, and some of them by all. However what I quickly became more affected by is the effort and strength the kids show as they try to move forward each day.
I have completed marathons, and many other endurance events, however I have always been well prepared, had all the tools I needed to be successful, and only entered events in which I felt prepared to succeed. As an endurance athlete, however unaccomplished, I recognize the need for proper training, technique, and support. Many of the youth at the Youth Homes run the marathon that is life without many of the things needed for success. As they run the race they don’t experience cheers of encouragement and physical support. Instead, either directly or indirectly, they often hear that even if they try, they will never make it, that they are not good enough or worth the effort, and that they might as well settle for less or just give up. Sometimes the very people who should be providing the most support and encouragement instead add to the heavy burden the kids are already carrying and give them things which hamper their performance.
What is remarkable is not the challenges they face but their ability to move forward. Runners know what happens when the body is asked to do things it is not ready to do; it develops coping mechanisms. If a muscle is strained, or too weak, other parts of the body make up the difference. In the end the determined runner moves forward, but the result is poor technique, lack of effective growth, further injury, and never full potential. The kids I have worked with have managed to perform amazing tasks despite their challenges, but they deserve support.
Anyone that has been at the edge of their ability, running uphill, carrying extra weight , with no water, no food, against the wind, with miles to go, and thinking only of stopping knows the feelings that lead kids to want to just end it. When you see others effortlessly cruising by, with all the support they need, you know where the feeling to lash out or cheat and take a short cut comes from. In these situations the short term sense of well being that the use of drugs and alcohol bring is understandable.
The Attention Home serves as an aid station on the road, where encouragement and support is given. There is a belief they can do it, the expectations are high; they are shown that they are definitely worth the effort. Maybe some of the unnecessary load can be abandoned. Connections can be made to helpful resources. Many times kids leave the Attention Home with their challenges just as great, but they have had the rest and have learned the difference good support and encouragement can bring. Hopefully they will be more likely to stop at the next aid station, believe more in themselves and will know better what will help and hurt them in the long run.
The Youth Homes does a great job of supporting kids and does an equally good job of supporting runners who run in honor of the kids. This year we were given a nice hat, running shirt, and our entry fee for the race for being part of the team. If you’re not “Running 4 Kids” this year, I hope you will be inspired by the pages on www.firstgiving.com/youthhomes and join us next year.
~ Craig Kruegar, Program Director, Shirley Miller Attention Home, Youth Homes