Nurses uplift the homeless, recovering addicts through running

She crossed the finish line.  Still breathing heavily, she grinned as a volunteer handed her the medal.  As she walked along, she noticed a familiar face in the crowd.  It was one of the guys who used to sell her drugs.  She raised her medal.  As he flashed a salute to her, she smiled, saying to herself “I’m an athlete, I’m healthy, and I’m going to keep getting better.”

It’s amazing what happens when people learn there is more to them than they ever knew, and when that realization lifts their lives.

Patti Bright, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (commonly known as a CRNA) from Virginia Beach, Va., has seen many stories like this since she started working with the homeless and recovering addicts, providing many of them the life skills common to most runners, and helping to turn their lives around.

While the difficulties these people face vary wildly, Bright sees a common thread in those who reach to her group for help.

“Most of these people have had something happen in their lives that makes them feel they can’t do it,” she explains.  “Especially the women.  Many of them have never had anyone in their lives to trust.”

Bright is part of an effort to better the lives of some of her area’s most disadvantaged groups.  She has helped homeless people and recovering drug addicts learn life skills common to most runners, and helped them turn their lives around in the process.

How it all started

It all started ten years ago at a leadership retreat.  Bright was one of many nurse anesthetists trying to find ways to promote their profession.  To that point, the group had aimed its messaging at mainly state legislators, but felt more could be done.  During a brainstorming session, Bright recalled a lecture on public relations she had attended some time before, and how creating a newsworthy message would bring interest.

But how do you make a group of nurse anesthetists newsworthy?

The group eventually decided to form a team of CRNA runners to run the Virginia Beach Half Marathon.  The event had recently been named the top half marathon in the country, and it would be a good opportunity to get the group involved.  But the question remained:  How could they make generate interest in the group?

The answer was getting the surrounding community involved.  Their organization decided to raise funds for a local charity that provides meals, clothing and medical care to the poor and homeless.  The effort didn’t end there.  The CRNAs wanted to include the people they’d be helping in the event – but how?

They settled on fielding a team of CRNA runners, as well as manning a running one of the race’s water stops with CRNAs and the homeless people they were helping.  In doing so, they guaranteed the kind of coverage they sought – a higher profile for their career field, driven by the interest created by their making a difference in their community.

The first three years of the event went well.  Local media covered the event, and the amount of support they received grew.  The water stop manned with the area’s homeless became a well-known feature of the race.  But the direction of the program would change drastically when a girl from a recovery group asked to be trained to run.

Running as a life-changer


When Melissa approached Bright about training for the race, she was in recovery for drug addiction.  She was doing well in recovery, but she still smoked, was overweight, and although she had a steady job, she was struggling to find meaningful work.  Bright saw someone who needed guidance and self-discipline to help build her self-esteem.

Bright says that many of the individuals she meets while working with the homeless and addicted have had something happen in their lives that destroyed their feeling of self-worth.  Sometimes, just the act of caring and offering help can be enough to get them started on the road to recovery.

She says “it’s just about believing in someone and being a mentor to them.”

The first order of helping is holding them accountable for training, and demanding their commitment to the training necessary to get through 13.1 miles.  She tells her runners that training happens early in the morning (usually before dawn), and unless there’s lightning or hail, the run is on.

The pre-dawn runs weren’t just to instill discipline.  Bright’s work schedule includes long hours, making the early hours the only time available for her to hit the trails.  The early runs are her way to get ready for her shift, and to her, they’re not negotiable.

“If I know I have a long shift,” Bright explained, “a long run helps me prepare for my day.  [My patients] need all of me.  It’s up to me to pay close attention.”

Melissa stuck with the training, and over that summer, she lost weight, quit smoking, and completed the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon.  But bigger things were on the way.

Since that race, Melissa returned to school.  Bright, who attended her college graduation, says Melissa is now working as a medical assistant in an orthopedist’s office, and is currently enrolled in a registered nurse program.

Since her turnaround, Melissa has addressed state legislators at the event’s pre-race dinner, sharing her story and offering hope to those struggling as she did.  Bright marvels at the change.

“She is just a different person – the way she carries herself,” Bright says, adding that the training rebuilt her self-esteem.  “Now, she’s confident and goal-oriented.”


When Tammy approached Bright to train to run a race, she was recovering from drug addiction, and hoping to go to school to better herself.  But at 42 years old, she couldn’t do basic math.  Reaching higher education would be a struggle.

Bright told her what she tells each of what she calls her ‘special runners’ – “If you embrace [the training], you can get addicted to the sense of well-being.”

As with Melissa and other runners Bright has trained, those that persevere learn that running helps them face challenges, and gives them the confidence they need to overcome their weaknesses and succeed.  During those early-morning sessions, Bright says she and Tammy talked about more than just running.

“We had some very frank conversations during those runs,”  Bright said.  “We talked about saving money, how to budget, how to present yourself in interviews.”

In short, they talked about the kinds of life skills Tammy needed to succeed.  Tammy persevered, and finished the race – in style.

She crossed the finish line.  Still breathing heavily, she grinned as a volunteer handed her the medal.  As she walked along, she noticed a familiar face in the crowd.  It was one of the guys who used to sell her drugs.  She raised her medal.  As he flashed a salute to her, she smiled, saying to herself “I’m an athlete, I’m healthy, and I’m going to keep getting better.”

Since then, Tammy has gotten better.  Once unable to handle basic multiplication, she is now going to community college, and has a new outlook on life.

Bright still marvels at the power people have to change, and that running has the power to help them do it.

“I love my job.  I love what I do.  I love to give back to the community,” she says.  “I’m still amazed at how people can change the course of their lives.  When they run their race and win their medal, they really do feel they can accomplish anything.”

What’s next

The CRNA efforts continue, and grow stronger each year.  Bright has enlisted some of her success stories to help mentor others.  She’s still training runners, trying to give them the tools they need to turn their lives around.  And she’s still promoting wellness in her community.

She tells her colleagues that giving to others helps make them more whole.

“When you use your passions, when you look beyond yourself, it can be amazing!”

Like her team’s running jerseys read, CRNAs Rock!

Rock on, Patti.  Rock on!

Tentative steps after rehab


“Sense of overconfidence detected!”

It feels great to be moving around again and, as usual, I’m starting to think about bigger and better things, which of course, raises a HUGE RED FLAG. Continue reading “Tentative steps after rehab”

THIS is why I don’t bike on the streets

city bikingBefore I get started, I’m going to state something that seems obvious to me:  The more interesting the training area, the more enjoyable the training is.  I get it – you’re going to have a more interesting run in inspiring places.  Same goes for biking.  What could be more peaceful than flying down a local road into a brilliant sunset?

But the problem is when you get on a road, you could be taking your life in your hands.  You can ride in the bike lane, or in the absence of a lane, get as far to the right as possible.  You can arm your bicycle with blinking lights, wear a helmet and all the reflective gear you can find.  You can do all that, and it still won’t stop someone who’s simply not paying attention from killing you.

A triathlete acquaintance posted a story from my home state of Illinois early today, in which two bikers, a husband and wife, were killed from behind by an SUV driven by a 16-year old.  At this time, very few details are available, other than the riders were struck from behind, that the man died at the scene, and that his wife died later after being airlifted.  Both were wearing helmets.

The couple were on a training ride for a charity event to be held next weekend.  They were to participate in the Bike MS: Tour de Farms event in DeKalb, IL this weekend.

The latest reports state the driver was “issued a citation for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.”  In Illinois, this is a petty offense, punishable with a fine only, with a maximum fine of $1,000.

For the record, I’m not calling for the driver’s head – I have no idea what happened, and no idea of the circumstances surrounding the accident.  That said, let the record state that $1,000 is the cost of taking two bicyclists’ lives in Illinois.

That’s why stories like this really piss me off.  They’re the reason I don’t get out and bike as much as I’d like.  The simple fact that other people aren’t careful could cost you your life.

I’ve always been of the opinion that there need to be stiff laws in place to protect cyclists.  Laws that will force drivers to actually look for bikers and be careful.  I’m sorry – I just don’t think that $1,000 does the trick.

And, before I get the comments, I understand the whole “you take a risk when you walk out the door” thing.  But knowing the area in which I live, and seeing the number of people I see texting while driving, drifting in and out of their lanes with their heads down, that’s just not a level of risk I’m willing to take.  I value my life, and cherish the time I have with my wife, kids and friends too much to add that level of chance to my life.

Maybe that makes me a wimp.  Maybe that makes me a worry-wart.  It likely makes me a touch paranoid about this topic.  I’m OK with that.

The Washington & Old Dominion trail: A biking gem in Northern Virginia

What a crazy few weeks.  Work has been nuts, my son is back from college, new phones and a new car bought, and I’ve entered the final stretch of weekend classes in a certificate course.

The net result – not enough training, and not enough blogging, either.  I’ve worked out twice in the last two weeks, but I got back on track (actually…back on trail) Friday.

One of my favorite things to do when I can’t run is get on the bike and hit the trails.  Being more of a road bike guy, gravel and mud don’t really work for me.  I’ll do it for fun, but if the ride is about a workout, I’m on a road bike.

Fortunately for me, there’s a great paved trail not too far from me that stretches some 45 miles in its entirety.  The Washington and Old Dominion trail (technically the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park) is built on the bed of the railroad of the same name, which closed in the late 60s.  I’ve never ridden it from end to end, but I’ll get around to it one day.

The only down side to using the W&OD is that I have to load up the bike, and drive about 15 minutes to get there.  That’s because there isn’t a route to get there that doesn’t deal with the DC area’s insane drivers.  A workout isn’t worth getting killed over, after all!

W&OD map

The W&OD itself is a two-lane trial stretching from Shirlington, VA to Purcellville, VA.  It passes through heavily populated areas, suburbs, and more rural areas as you move westward.  Lots of nice towns, good food and bike-friendly things to do along the way.

Green LizardI typically start at the 10-mile marker near Vienna.  About 10 miles to the west is the Green Lizard bike shop in Herndon.  That’s my shortest ride – there and back.  I love to stop there, catch my breath and look at bike stuff.  The staff there is very knowledgeable and helpful.  They’ve got a full-service repair shop in there, if you’re in need.  Additionally, they have a coffee shop inside that makes smoothies – perfect on a hot day!

Mediterranean BreezeIf I’m not in a rush, or if I’m riding with the wife on a casual ride, we’ll stop in at Mediterranean Breeze, also in Herndon.  It’s just a block from the Green Lizard.  They do a little bit of everything on the menu, and everything we’ve had is pretty good (my personal favorite is the New Orleans jambalaya).  Good prices, too.  They also do a Sunday brunch, if that’s your kind of thing.

Carolina BrothersIf I’m on my own on a longer ride, I’ll go about 35 miles, and visit Carolina Brothers Pit BBQ (mile marker 27.5) in Ashburn as my midway point.  I’ve been there probably a half dozen times, and each time, the food’s been great – and cheap.  Of course, the down side is that the ride back ALWAYS takes longer than the ride there.  A belly full of BBQ will do that!

With all that said, today’s ride was short – 10 out and back, for 20 miles total.  It was my first ride on the bike this year, and it felt great to get out.  I pushed the pace on the way out, and focused a little more on form on the way back.  I deliberately didn’t time the ride, so as not to be competing with the clock.

Since it was a Friday afternoon, the trail wasn’t super-crowded, which is often the case on the weekends.  All in all, it was a great ride!

P R – the two letters that make us all smile

PRIt doesn’t matter if the improvement is a second, a minute or ten minutes.  Those two letters reflect the work you’ve put in.

It’s not a measure of you against the other guy – it’s a measure of you against yourself, and the clock is the only audience that matters.

Just remember to reset those PRs about once every ten years, or you’ll be chasing ghosts!




What’re you gonna do?


We all have had them – the bumps in the road that leave us wondering what to do and where to go from here.

Those things – the injuries, the relapses, the periods where we lose focus and pay the price – shouldn’t define us.  Not if we look ourselves in the mirror,  re-evaluate, and do what it takes to overcome them.

You’ll never lose as long as you keep competing!

#motivationmonday #planpersistprevail

Product Review: Yurbuds Focus

yurbuds focus
Yurbuds Focus:  $28.50

I’ll open this review by saying that I’ve always had problems finding earphones (especially earbuds) that stay put while I’m running.  In fact, for many years, I had been relegated to over-the-ear models because I simply couldn’t find a model that would comfortably stay in place.  It didn’t matter what size earpiece I fitted to the buds – they were coming out one or two miles into a run.

That little problem ended with the Yurbuds Focus. Continue reading “Product Review: Yurbuds Focus”