Formerly homeless, woman ‘back on her feet’ and bound for Philly marathon

     Donna Blackwell will become the first female 'Back on My Feet' member to run in the Philadelphia Marathon. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Donna Blackwell will become the first female 'Back on My Feet' member to run in the Philadelphia Marathon. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Training for a marathon can change your life.

    For one woman who’s running in this weekend’s Philadelphia Marathon, that’s an understatement.

    Donna Blackwell, 54, was addicted to alcohol or crack-cocaine — or both — for most of her life. But in the two years she’s been clean, you’re more likely to find her running down a street than standing on the corner.

    “As long as you don’t get high, you can do anything you want,” said Blackwell. “As a matter of fact, I’ll tell you the best high I get is when I’m running. And it’s free.”

    She started running a few years ago when she joined the group Back on My Feet, which helps homeless people in shelters across the city through regular group runs.

    The nonprofit which originated in Philadelphia has ballooned into a national organization with 11 local chapters.

    exec directorBack on My Feet executive director Scott Crossin. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Scott Crossin, executive director of Back on My Feet Philadelphia, says members use the disciplined exercise to become more self-sufficient and improve themselves.

    “We do use running as the vehicle to help people move their lives forward,” said Crossin. “But more important than running is the goal-setting process and being part of the community.”

    Today, Blackwell lives in her own apartment in West Philly and helps out at the shelter where she used to live.

    And she is proud of herself for putting in the time and effort necessary to complete her training for the big race.

    “All my life, I quit. Everything I start, I stop,” Blackwell said. “This is the one thing I’m not gonna quit.”

    On Sunday she’ll become the first female Back on My Feet member to run the Philadelphia marathon.

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