By HPRS Race Director John Lacroix
When Jeff first told me that he was bringing a friend to volunteer with him at this month’s Sheep Mountain Endurance Runs, I thought nothing of it. I always encourage volunteers to bring others along, so that we can all share the joy in the many accomplishments that are had on race weekend. It takes a village to put on a race, and more times than not, race directors could always use more volunteers. Who Jeff brought with him wasn’t much of a surprise to me, but the lessons learned were.
After U-Haul failed me by not having a trailer available for me to haul gear up to Fairplay, I asked Jeff if he wouldn’t mind stopping by my place to pick up some things for transport up in his truck. Like always, Jeff.. the more than helpful volunteer that he is, came right over. The friend he was bringing with him to the race was with him, for the purposes of this story, we’ll refer to him as Bob.
Bob got out of the truck when Jeff arrived. He was all of 5’4” tall, had long grey stringy hair, and wore a ball cap upon his head. He was wearing jeans, a short sleeve shirt, and carried a denim jacket with him. Bob is also 67 years old, and had the appearance that he’d been out in the sun far too long given the trait of his leathery skin. As I would any race volunteer, I welcomed Bob to the shit show with open arms, and thanked him for coming along for the ride. He was appreciative, eager to help, and overall an incredibly friendly man.
Bob clearly saw what needed to be loaded into the truck, and without even needing to be asked he dove into the heavy lifting. One 5-gallon jug of water at a time, Bob picked them up and hauled them across the driveway to Jeff’s truck. We filled the pick-up with as much gear as we could, while my vehicle was literally busting at the seams with the same. Bob, didn’t talk much at first. Just another volunteer willing to do whatever was needed for the race and it’s runners.
When we arrived in Fairplay, we headed for town hall to unload all of the water for the weekend’s race. We still hadn’t brought it all with us, having to strand a few jugs behind for Emily to haul them up after work the next day. Once the water was unloaded, the three of us headed for the storage unit where we set about the task of divvying out race supplies for all of our aid stations. There was Bob, doing whatever was asked of him, and jumping in to take care of things he recognized as needing to be done without even being asked. Already, Bob was showing off his skills as an exemplary volunteer.
The next day, Jeff and I went about marking 40 miles of the course via ATV. There’s only room for 2 of us on the machine, so we left Bob in town to do as he pleased. Upon returning from the day, I asked Bob what he had been up to, “I read my book, I walked around town to check things out, and I watched a guy paint a house.” For some of us, not the most exciting day; After all, how often does any of us enjoy watching paint dry? Bob enjoyed it very much, perhaps affording him a brief glimpse into something he did in his past.
As soon as we returned to town, and switched gears to getting back to work in Fairplay, there was Bob ready to go. When Emily arrived with the rest of the water for the race, water she had to haul up in her Outback in a pinch to ensure we didn’t run out, there was Bob. No one asked him to help, and no one directed him with what needed to be done. He just got to work. Bob arose from his chair and immediately started helping us unload the water from Emily’s car.
During the race I made my way to the aid station that Jeff and Bob were stationed at. These two had spent the entire weekend camping together, eating dinner together, and now.. serving runners together. The aid station was set up in the exact spot it has historically been. Bob was present, not just the kind of present where someone is simply there, I mean.. Bob was present. I’m not sure what all he got his hands into at the aid station, but I know he helped and he helped a lot. Simply having him there was turning out to be a real joy. The perfect volunteer, someone who got the work done and with intuition. Someone who didn’t need to be asked to do something, or corrected because he just knew how to direct a race. He worked, he used common sense, he paid attention, he made an impact.
Long after their aid station closed, Bob was picking things up and putting them in the pick-up at our finish line. The items he was loading were being set for transport back to our storage unit. When they got back there, Bob helped unload the truck. I’m sure Jeff and Bob made 5 or 6 trips to storage, no one was counting, it was just work that needed to be done. Bob was there, working.. every step of the way… into the late hours of the night. Bob and Jeff’s day on Saturday stretched from 7am to 10:30pm.
I have to tell you that, I was genuinely surprised when on Sunday Morning, Bob was still ready to go. We met for a day of trail work to round out the weekend, you know.. that activity us “Lazy Parasites” seldom do? Bob was there. Bob was ready. Bob did trail work. Bob had been with us, working hard since Thursday afternoon. Each day, helping The Human Potential Running Series was his job, his purpose. He was there to not only help the race get off without a hitch, he was there to serve our community of runners and he did so eagerly, without direction, and without expectation of being celebrated, earning comp race entries, or even being paid.
You’re probably wondering what the big deal is.
You’re probably wondering why I’ve spent the front half of this article, writing about what most any volunteer would be willing to do to help a race. There was something different about Bob that I picked up on early. I never asked a question, I never even implored about it, because it didn’t matter. As I have stated many times in writing, in our newsletter, in videos, and in our podcast.. we as human beings want three things in our lives. 1.) Is to belong, 2.) Is to be loved and 3.) Is to give love. For the entire weekend, Bob achieved all three of these things, and.. having Bob around made me realize that Bob gave these three things to me, and Jeff, and even to the many of you who came out and ran.
You see… Bob is homeless.
You read that right. A homeless man was picked up from the concrete jungle of Denver, CO and invited to the mountains for a weekend. He was invited knowing full well what was going on in the mountains, how he would be contributing, and that it’s far different than his normal day to day. For many weeks now, Jeff has been heading downtown and spending time with the homeless. Whoever he meets, he simply gives them those things we all crave. He makes them feel like they belong. He gives them love. At times, they love him too and I imagine that love is not always shown or vocalized.. but the impact is indeed obvious.
119 runners made it to Fairplay for this year’s Sheep Mountain Endurance Runs. Not a single one knew that Bob, one of our valued volunteers for the weekend, is homeless. Every. Single. Runner. All of them, saw Bob at the aid station he was at. Bob served every runner, in some capacity, over the course of the weekend. In fact, Bob was one of the hardest working volunteers I’ve ever had at HPRS, not to detract or denigrate from those who have also given much, but seriously take a moment to consider this. Bob, whose world consists of walking the concrete jungle and trying to find food, and a place to sleep, was out there hauling water, cutting up fruit, making quesadillas, showing you the way to go. He helped us clean up and pack up. He helped build trail…
Bob has walked a different trail in life. I never asked him what his story was, hell.. I never even asked if he was homeless. At first I didn’t ask because, It didn’t matter. Then I realized, I didn’t ask if Bob is homeless, or how Jeff even knew him.. because home is not defined by a single place. Sometimes home is defined as, simply where your heart is. If you are where your heart is, then you’re home. It was obvious, that for the weekend of Sheep Mountain, Bob called Fairplay home. He called HPRS home. His heart was in it.
We’re a judgmental lot, us humans. Here in Colorado’s Front Range, we see a wide variety of homeless, transients, and folks who are just struggling standing on street corners and traffic lights with their signs. Yes, some of us give them money, food, clothes, or even conversation. But let’s be real… a lot of us also avoid eye contact at all costs. A lot of us lock our car doors and drive on, after first having passed judgment. When we see a homeless person smoking cigarettes or wanting a beer, we often scoff at them and make mention how.. “They’d have more money if they quit smoking and drinking.” Bob hung out in Jeff’s truck some over the weekend as well. How many of you would walk away from your car, with the keys inside, and a homeless man nearby? Humans are indeed a judgmental lot.
Bob loves both cigarettes and weed. He earned his the weekend of Sheep Mountain. Being in the high altitude town of Fairplay affected him. He has COPD, something I know a few ultra runners as having themselves. When the altitude really started to affect him on Thursday and into Friday Morning.. he put the cigarettes down. I don’t know Bob’s story, the trail he’s travelled or how he got to where he is today. I simply imagine that whatever it is, Bob has earned his cigs and weed. He certainly earned them over the weekend of Sheep Mountain. Who are we to pass judgment on a man who was voluntarily willing to give so much to us?
As Human’s, I believe that we crave three vital things in our lives.
1. Is to belong.
2. Is to be loved.
3. Is to give love
At this year’s Sheep Mountain Endurance Runs, Bob found a place where he belongs. For at least a weekend, he was able to skip town and leave the day to day he has come to know and understand. He was released from the prison of homelessness and welcomed in to the mountains. In the mountains, where they so often speak for themselves, Bob belonged. He also loved you. He served you. He did whatever was asked of him and even what wasn’t asked of him. He did it willingly. He did it without question. He helped build trail, something that yes.. many lazy parasites have yet to ever do.
Most importantly though, we loved Bob. Jeff gave him love by simply inviting him and caring for him. In thinking about the profoundly positive affect something like serving runners at an ultra can have, Bob was given a gift. As the race director for HPRS, I spend a lot of time studying people. I spend more time than I care to admit observing, listening, and.. well, directing. I saw Bob light up that weekend. I saw him enjoy himself doing something completely different, I saw Bob engaging with runners and other volunteers, I saw Bob doing something we all crave.. BEING HUMAN.
I told Jeff that I think he’s on to something. Not only do I admire him for taking the time to go sit with the homeless and give them those three things we all crave, but I admire the guts it took for him to bring someone with him to one of our races with the only parameter being that he would serve others. A homeless man, a human being whom we all should find ways to serve, a man whom we should be cutting food up for and serving him. A man who we should be doing more work to make him feel cared for, valued, and at home.. did all of these things instead, for YOU.
In September 2017, I ran 202 miles across Colorado before hiking Mount Elbert in a blizzard. On my 4th day of running, my pacer and I ran to the intersection of Santa Fe Drive and Mineral in Littleton. On the island in the intersection was a homeless man. I asked my pacer, “Do you think that guy would like a hug?” We ran over. I approached the man and asked him, “Hey… um, can we give you a hug?” He stopped and stared at first, only to be followed by him starting to cry. He opened his arms and we both took the time to embrace him. As he backed away he stopped and said, “I’m sorry… it’s just been so long since anyone has offered me a hug…”
My pacer and I ran away from that intersection in silence. It was awhile before we could speak to each other again, both of us internalizing and processing what just happened. It felt good. It felt good to just be a decent human to someone who could use some decent humans. At this year’s Sheep Mountain 50, Bob showed us what it looks like to be a decent human. Per the usual, most of us had no idea. For some, no idea that he was even there. For all, no idea that he was homeless… was homeless because, Bob has a home here.
It also brought me back to that first 200-mile ultra in the world I directed in 2008. There I was in early November, standing in the frozen fields of late autumn Vermont with the 5 runners who had signed up. One of them, I knew, was homeless. Yet, that man made the long trip from South Boston to participate in the race he never thought would see the light of day. No one else there knew he was homeless, only me; and for the time he spent with us in the Green Mountains of Vermont, his perspective, his life, and his purpose had changed.. even if for just a few days, where the trail, the idea of running 200 miles, and being in his tribe… was home. I hope more of us can remember that homeless humans are just that… HUMAN.
Bob had to walk down the hill during trail work, finally tired from a long weekend and not coping well with an elevation his body isn’t used to, he returned to Jeff’s truck and quietly read his book while we finished up our tasks. Before we all parted ways, I walked over to the side of the truck Bob was sitting and asked if I could give him a hug. Bob simply opened his arms, and I embraced him. “I’m sorry I couldn’t hang the rest of the day with your trail work, my body just isn’t as young as it used to be” he explained. For a moment I stood there stunned. Stunned that Bob felt he had anything to apologize to me for. He had given more to HPRS in one weekend than most runners ever will. Bob had given more to strangers, than strangers usually ever give to him. So, I looked Bob in the eye and said, “You belong here Bob and you’re welcome here any time. I hope you’ll come back and join us again. You have nothing to apologize for, in fact… I imagine it’s the rest of us who have some apologizing to do..to you.”
This story displays what sets The Human Potential Running Series apart. This is a series for people who are ready and willing to be self aware enough to do the good work on themselves. This is a series where running is a vehicle for personal growth, where the work people do effects positive social change around us. What we do in the arena as runners has the potential to stretch far beyond the trails we follow ribbons down. The willingness to give back, or to simply give at all, can have an effect reaching much farther than most of us will ever truly understand. I hope you’ll decide to follow Bob’s lead.. and do the good work. Not just for you, but for others.
For more information on volunteering with HPRS, please CLICK HERE.
The names of our volunteers have been changed for the purposes of this article in order to protect their privacy.
The story is true.