Also published on The Huffington Post
On Sunday June 27, 1,400 people participated in the 28th annual San Diego International Triathlon consisting of a 1K swim, a 30K bike ride and a 10K run. The event raised $50,000 for the homeless programs of St. Vincent de Paul Village.
Six participants, racing in two teams of three people, were the first homeless women and men from St. Vincent de Paul Village to join in this event. I asked these six amazing participants why homeless people would run in a triathlon. I thank them for sharing their stories.
Team #1 Biker
Colette, 56 years old, born in Los Angeles, CA
“I am a former police officer and I came to St. Vinnie’s seeking asylum. My homelessness was not a choice — it was due to circumstances beyond my control.
Although I have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I completed short and long term programs at St. Vinnie’s. I am not homeless anymore. I have my own apartment. Now it’s a question of survival.
I rode the 18+ miles on a mountain bike. [Laughing] I was the only rider on a mountain bike. Everyone else had a real nice 10-speed, aluminum, made for racing bike. But I love exercise.”
Why bike in the triathlon?
“Exercise is one of the most therapeutic things for me. Although I began jogging in 1983, I have a stress fracture in my right foot, so I rode the bike. Participating in the triathlon was my way of saying thanks to St. Vinnie’s and Father Joe for helping me.”
Team #1 Walker
Charles, 57 years old, born and raised in San Diego, CA
“Although I had walked in a couple of 5Ks, this was my first triathlon. I prepared for this race by walking one and a half months. Before that, I had had kidney surgery. The race gave me something to look forward to.
I would eventually like to get a job. But depending upon what the doctors say, I may not be able to…”
Why walk in the triathlon?
“Besides praying and reading my Bible, the triathlon helped give me hope. The triathlon, and walking to prepare for it, helped fight my depression and anxiety. There is nothing more beautiful, nothing more wonderful than a park setting, even though it’s in the city, I find peace in my walk.”
Team #1 Swimmer
Malcolm, 49 years old, born and raised in San Diego, CA
“Before I ran in the San Diego International Triathlon, I had no previous triathlon experience. I became homeless six years ago due to drugs and alcohol abuse. My future plans? I want to finish my classes at the Village.”
Why swim in the triathlon?
“I have a background in water polo from high school. There was a poster displayed in the men’s dorm about the triathlon. I said to myself, ‘I can do this.’ I did not know which leg of the triathlon I would do until the day before the triathlon, so I practiced all three parts — swimming, biking and running.”
Team #2 Biker
Amos, 19 years old, born in Jamaica and raised in Haiti
“I came to the United States in 2005 to go to school, get a paying job and help my people back there in Haiti. My goal is to attend United Education Institute (UEI) in Chula Vista and learn criminal justice. I plan to become a police officer.”
Why bike in the triathlon?
“I heard that many people had problems because of their age. So, I thought biking in the triathlon was a way to show that age doesn’t matter. It just matters that you finish. The same attitude applies to life. You can’t give up. You have to finish. And I had fun doing it!”
Team #2 Runner
Jan, 24 years old
“I became homeless in 2008 as a result of domestic violence. Running is good exercise and a stress reliever. Running relieves what I went through and will help me get back to school and become a nurse.”
Why run in the triathlon?
“Except for my son, running makes me the happiest. ‘Forrest Gump’ is my favorite movie and an inspiration for me. I wish all St. Vincent de Paul residents could participate in the triathlon so that they improve physically and emotionally.”
Team #2 Swimmer
Nikita, 62 years old, born in Bulgaria
“In 1999, I came to the United States. I became homeless in 2007 when I left my apartment in LaMesa, CA because it was being remodeled. After the remodel was completed, I was told that I could not go back to my apartment.
From the time I was a young girl in Bulgaria, I enjoyed sports. As a student at the university, I studied Preventive Care Medicine. As a math teacher and then later as a vice principal in a high school, I kept my love of swimming. In the future, I would like to work for Father Joe at St. Vincent de Paul Village.”
Why swim in the triathlon?
“Because they put an advertisement up. I like adventures. I thought, ‘I can do this.’ Every opportunity I can to do sports, I do. Every day, I go to 24 Hour Fitness Center and swim.”
I asked triathlete Nicholas Coniaris, MS, CRC, the program manager at the Education Center/Health and Wellness Program for St. Vincent de Paul Village why he encouraged and coached these athletes.
Nick responded, “At Father Joe’s Villages we strive to heal and rehabilitate the whole person, and that includes their bodies, minds and spirits. Yoga, tai chi, meditation, music group, walking and triathlon are all opportunities that we provide for our residents to start creating energy, pride and good health for themselves.” Please visit www.svdpv.org for further information about Father Joe’s Villages.
The event creator and coordinator, Rick Kozlowski, was excited about the participation of these athletes: “This past race, something happened that we had talked about for 28 years — this year I got to see St. Vincent de Paul residents do what I had created all these years. I hope that homeless athletes will participate in future San Diego International Triathlons!”
Please watch the following YouTube video of these athletes in action.