“We have a hard start time of 6 a.m.,” Krista White said as she raced out of the office of the Jim White Fitness Studio off Great Neck Road.
White and her husband, Jim, and 10 other people were preparing to begin their 240-mile relay run to the White House early Sunday morning.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Jim White said as he gathered last-minute items for the trip. “I don’t even know what day it is. We’re going to run the first part of this on adrenaline.”
He came up with the idea to run to the White House to raise awareness and money to help the homeless. He runs the Jim White Community Fitness Organization, which sponsors LIFT, a 90-day program the organization runs in homeless shelters in the Virginia Beach area. The acronym stands for Lifting Spirits, Improving Bodies, Feeding Souls and Transforming Lives.
Jim White told the runners they had met their goal of fundraising $20,000 the day before. All of it will go to the LIFT program.
Around 5:50 a.m., the runners gathered for some motivation and instruction while they stretched in the dark 40-degree morning. About 50 others had showed up to watch and run along for the first 1.5 miles of their journey.
Jim White cited the reason for doing this run — to help those who are less fortunate than themselves.
“What I’ve seen through my work with the program is that people think a lot of the homeless are lazy and just use their money for alcohol, and that is true in some occasions,” he said. “But after working with them, we saw that they are just like us. A lot of them have lost their jobs in the bad economy, and a lot of them just need a lift in the right direction.”
One of the 12 people embarking on the relay was Michael Lowder, a LIFT graduate. He credits running for helping turn his life around.
“Back in May of last year, I was in a different place,” he said before the group gathered around him. “I made some poor decisions — a lot of poor decisions.”
Lowder recounted how he consistently “took the easy way out” and turned to alcohol and drugs. Without a job and with little family support at the time, he became homeless. Lowder said the PIN Ministry helped him turn his life. He volunteered with them at a half-marathon, which inspired him to take up running. They helped set him up with White’s LIFT program to help train him.
“[LIFT volunteers] don’t just go ahead and take care of you physically. They raise your spirits, and that’s really where it’s needed,” Lowder said. “To have that hope that you get, not just from the physical exercise but from the folks that want to invest in your lives and see you and cheer you in becoming better, that’s where the awesome part of it was.”
He completed the half-marathon in September and called it a life-defining moment.
“I want to say thank you, because there’s some people in this crowd that I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude,” Lowder said.
The group then gathered in prayer before White handed Mayor Will Sessoms a blow horn to sound off the group’s start.
At 6:03 a.m., the group took off, accompanied by two mobile homes. The 12 runners who were participating in the 240-mile relay planned to stop at homeless shelters along the way to Washington and drop off care packages. The anticipated a late Monday afternoon arrival at the White House.
You can follow their journey on their Facebook page.