Running with Wes Doty: A Celebration of Life

Wes Doty knows what it’s like to face death multiple times over, but thanks to the help of an organization called Back On My Feet, he found a fresh start on life and a love (and talent!) for running. In this multi-part series, we are honored to share Wes’ story and chronicle his journey to the Boston Marathon on April 20.

I started using drugs and alcohol when I was 14 years old. I remember, at the time, describing the feeling of being high as how love must feel. A comfort inside myself that was unfamiliar. I promised myself I would seek that feeling for the rest of my life and I did for the next 14 years. Everything that could happen from living that lifestyle, did. Boy’s school as a juvenile, jail as an adult. Countless homeless shelters, soup kitchens, or just going hungry for the night. Multiple rehabs and hospital visits from overdoses. I eventually found myself sleeping on the sidewalk in downtown Indianapolis begging for change to get my next high or for food, although food was an afterthought at the time.

If you’d met me a few years ago, you would have walked right past. I lost most of what I had to my addiction – my home, my family, my dignity, myself, and hope that anything could be any different.  They say you know when you hit bottom, I was there. I reached out for help, got sober and was introduced to Back on My Feet through the recovery facility that I was staying with at the time. They introduced me to running. That was 3 ½ years ago. I have not looked back since. 

Through Back on My Feet, I formed friendships and professional connections. I gained skills for budgeting, planning and interviewing that helped me secure a quality job with a locally owned logistics company. I rebuilt my relationship with my mom, daughter and brother.

My mom was able to cheer me to a win at a local 5K shortly before she passed away from an automobile accident. It was our plan to go to Boston together. I’m sticking to that plan. I’m running in honor of her life. She is one of my “whys.” My brother and I are closer than ever and go on vacations all over the country. My daughter, wow! I couldn’t imagine not watching her grow up. I’m her hero, but she’s mine, too.

Many people who meet me today don’t know and wouldn’t guess what my journey entailed. They meet Wes, a hard working (handsome) guy at a logistics company (ha-ha kidding!). They meet a man who loves distance running, on the streets and trails. They meet a person who has his eyes set on the Boston Marathon finish line, who reads books with his 6-year-old little girl. And someone who is committed to helping others find their way out from addiction.

Back on My Feet gave me a fresh start in life. They gave me a chance to reinvent myself, encouraged me to set and achieve bigger and bigger goals in running, work and life. They helped me believe in myself again and trust the people around me. Beyond running, they helped me gain confidence in myself and trust in others. Through their Next Steps program, I learned personal financial management, interview skills and other skills I’d soon need in my job and daily life. Throughout the process and even today, they provide a community that I know will be there to support and cheer for me, challenge me and hold me accountable.

I started running as part of the Back on My Feet program, three mornings a week at 5:45am. I was surprised that I enjoyed it; was kind of good at it too! I kept running because of the feeling of accomplishment it gives me. I love how goal-oriented running is. I set a goal before every run and I complete it. It changed my way of thinking on everything else in life. Running is my meditation. It’s where I talk to God. It’s where I reflect on my past, my present, and where I want to go in the future. I always tell people at around mile 10 my mind goes quiet. It’s almost a spiritual experience for me, every time.

This will be my first time running in the Boston Marathon. First time in Boston, actually.  These three years since I started running, I’ve heard a lot about the race and tradition from people who have competed themselves.  I set running in the race as a main goal of mine shortly after I got sober and started running. I qualified for the race at the Carmel Marathon in Carmel, Indiana, on March 30, 2019.  Not only was it my first and only marathon I’ve done, but it was 36 degrees, windy, and a heavy downpour for the entire race. I crossed the line with a time of 2:55:19.

I run 35-40 miles a week now, but that is going to gradually increase in the next couple weeks. I will eventually be running somewhere between 60 and 75 miles a week. I have different regimens week to week which includes speed work, steady state runs, threshold tempo runs, and long runs. (Of course, EASY runs in between those.)

In every area of my life, I know I have people I can lean on and celebrate with. Back on My Feet staff and volunteers are there for me when I have questions about nearly anything, a sounding board or just a running buddy. My co-workers and leadership help push me to grow in my work and personal life and are there if I stumble. I’m still very connected with the recovery program that saved my life and the new people who are just starting their journeys. My friends, some who know a lot of my story and some who know just a piece, are there day in and day out. Without the community that has built up around me, I’m certain I wouldn’t have taken on the opportunities that have landed in front of me.

This was a lot to read.  Thank you, for making it all the way through to the end! When everything is all said and done, at the end of the day, I just want to live my life to the fullest. A chance I never gave myself in the past. I want to inspire people through my actions. People who have lost any and all hope that things can change. I want people to see my journey and know, without a doubt, that they can overcome anything they may be going through. Whether that is addiction, depression, stress, grief, or something else.

Thank you.

About Back on My Feet

Back on My Feet combats homelessness through the power of running, community support and essential employment resources. Operating in 13 major cities coast-to-coast, Back on My Feet recruits members at homeless and residential facilities and begins with a commitment to run three days a week. The second phase of the program, Next Steps, provides educational support, job training programs, employment partnership referrals and housing resources. Since 2007, Back on My Feet members have run a collective 925,000 miles and obtained more than 6,500 jobs and homes. We have also engaged more than 150,000 volunteers and supporters. Every $1 invested in Back on My Feet returns nearly $2.50 to the local community through increased economic output and cost savings. Visit backonmyfeet.org and follow us on Facebook,  Twitter,  and Instagram.

Check out the trailer for “The Long Run” a documentary featuring Wes, his story and journey to the Boston Marathon.

The Long Run Trailer Directed by Thomas Lewis

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