Friends from very different realities

Ron Hayes (left) and Dan Colameco are members of Back on My Feet, which works to build self-esteem in the homeless through running.
Ron Hayes (left) and Dan Colameco are members of Back on My Feet, which works to build self-esteem in the homeless through running.
Posted: April 29, 2012

The Inquirer is presenting a daily profile of participants in next Sunday's Blue Cross Broad Street Run. See full coverage at www.philly.com/broadstreetrun.

Dan and Ron meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5:30 a.m. at St. John's Hospice, a homeless shelter at 12th and Race Streets.

The greeting is always the same.

Ron Hayes, 62, who lives in the shelter, will nod and say, "Coach."

Dan Colameco, 27, who works with autistic students at Radnor High School, will smile and say, "Mr. Hayes."

They will fist-bump.

And start running.

Slow, but steady. Both are members of the Philadelphia chapter of Back on My Feet, a national organization, founded in Philadelphia, dedicated to creating independence and self-sufficiency among the homeless by building their confidence and self-esteem through running.

Often they will run across the Ben Franklin Bridge, a challenge for Ron, who has diabetes and asthma, and carries his inhaler. They will often run along the Camden waterfront, and by the Battleship New Jersey, a ship he said he helped to repair many years ago.

The two men will debate everything on runs - whether there is actually such a thing as bad pizza (Ron, yes; Dan, no); what is acceptable to put in an omelet (Dan, asparagus; Ron, is he nuts?); whether Wilt Chamberlain is the best basketball player in city history (Ron, yes, period.)

Dan, who lives in Center City, joined Back on My Feet as a volunteer for two reasons. He was in a bad place once, lost, suicidal, and people helped him back, and he figured this would be his way of paying it forward.

He also thought he'd meet cute girls.

"The reason I signed up," he said, "is actually less important than the reason I stayed. I stayed because what I found wasn't volunteers helping those experiencing homelessness. What I actually found was a family, a group of people from all walks of life who love each other and help each other out."

"Ron is not my homeless friend, my black friend, or my old friend," Dan said. "He really is just my friend, and I think that is maybe what he has taught me the most."

Ron worked at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for 19 years as an onboard machinist but quit in 1986. "I figured the grass was always greener on the other side of the fence," he said, "but as it turned out it was Astroturf."

Ron struggled and drifted over the years, lost his house, and, for the last three years, has been homeless.

He thought people who got up at 5:30 a.m. to run were insane, but he was getting fat, so he gave it a try. Not only has he lost 19 pounds, and accomplished something he never thought he could, logging 463 miles in the last year, but he has made friendships with people who truly care about him.

Ron watched Dan, who has done six marathons, run Broad Street last year and thought 1) watching people run by is "like watching paint dry," and 2) he would run it this year.

So he will line up with Dan, his coach and friend, and they will run two blocks, walk one block, all the way down Broad Street, proving that not all winners finish first.


Contact Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or mvitez@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @michaelvitez.

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