We are sad to report the passing of Marathon Maniac #11033, Waldon Adams.
He and a friend “were killed Saturday the 24th when they were struck by a vehicle while they were taking a stroll at Hains Point at the southern tip of East Potomac Park in Washington D.C.” (Washington Post)
Some of his story is below.
From 2015–story credit WMAU by Martin Austermuhle
From Homeless to Hopeful: Waldon Adams Reflects On Wins In A Rollercoaster Life
“My name is Waldon Adams. I’m from Washington, D.C. I was born in Columbia Hospital not far from here. Columbia Women’s Hospital.”
I’m sitting with Waldon Adams in the offices of Miriam’s Kitchen, an organization in Foggy Bottom that works to feed and house the city’s chronically homeless residents.
The 52-year-old is an advocacy fellow at the organization, and his job revolves around raising awareness and support for programs that seek to house the homeless as the first step of helping them get back on their feet. It’s a story he tells well, because it’s one he’s lived.
“I’ve been homeless off and on up until about six years ago,” he says.
Adams traces his rollercoaster life to an early bout of asthma, which he says was treated with a medication that he became addicted to and served as a gateway into a long life of alcohol, drugs and disappointment — he struggled in school and college, was discharged from the Navy and lost most of his left hand in an accident involving dynamite.
He struggled with mental illnesses, had trouble holding down jobs, and cycled between living on the street and in hospitals.
“Twenty-one is when I got introduced to cocaine and that’s when it really, really went bad,” he says.
“I dropped out of college, I kept losing jobs, I kept losing places to stay. Back then in the 80s you could find another place — I could work at Woody’s somewhere and get a decent apartment in certain areas, but as time went by salary and apartment ranges kinda separated, one went down, the other went up. So it harder to find a place, it was harder and harder. So I spent a lot of time in psych wards, I spent most of my time at St. Es, most of my 20s were spent at St. Elizabeths,” he adds.
After control of the hospital passed from the federal to the District’s government, he was discharged and left with nowhere to go and little support. He contracted HIV, which steadily worsened until he was diagnosed with AIDS. With his health failing, he spent more and more time in emergency rooms.https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/82464572&color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false
“The words I loved to hear were, ‘You’re being admitted,’ because that meant that I had a place to stay for a couple of weeks and I had something to eat and maybe get my clothes cleaned,” he says.
Though he admits that having AIDS spared him from spending more time on the street, his life was still in shambles. During one hospital stay, Adams hit a low: he didn’t want to live anymore. He hatched a plan to counteract the medications he was given by running around his room, thinking that he would literally sweat them out. It had the opposite effect, he says.
“So I had this crazy idea. I put the bed in the middle of the room in the psych ward and started running around it. I ran around it every morning for 40 minutes and then I went to an hour every morning,” he recounts.
“It kinda kept me alive because, even though I had planned to save my pills and kill myself when I got out, the running made me feel good, just running around that bed every day. And so when I got discharged, instead of going with my plan when I got my next check I was going to go to a hotel, take my pills, drink and die, I had some type of hope, I liked running for some reason,” he says.
With that newfound hope, Adams headed to a support center on 14th Street NW. It was there that he was connected with something he never imagined he’d have: his own apartment.
Adams had come across permanent supportive housing, a program that sets out to connect the chronically homeless to homes and services they can use to start fresh. The theory is simple, say its supporters: a home is the best foundation for the stability that many homeless individuals — notably those who are chronically homeless and facing multiple issues, like Waldon — need before taking on their other challenges.
Waldon says that having a home without any pre-conditions — other programs he was in required that he remain sober, something he couldn’t easily do at the time — made all the difference.
“My first day in there, I gotta be honest, my first day in there I relapsed. I had a few dollars left and I relapsed. The first thing is that you got a place and people can come over, that’s what I started thinking at first, you forget the gratitude you had. But then that next morning I realized I didn’t have to go looking for a place to stay after I got high, I mean I’m still here. Nobody put me out like happened in transitional housing. I gave myself a chance,” he says.
With a home to call his own and a newfound interest in running, Adams had found a small measure of stability in his life. Though he still struggled with the basics of living alone — cooking for himself remains a challenge, he admits — his apartment gave him a place to come back to after he went running through the city.
“When I was leaving out today coming over here, I just remember it feels good to know that you leave out the cold… like when I go running in the morning, I know that I’m going back to a warm place, I can take a hot shower,” he says.
Adams eventually took his interest in running a few steps further — 26 miles further, to be exact — as he took on the challenge of running marathons.
“The best feeling I ever had is when I ran that first marathon. That feeling of crossing that finishing line was so amazing, I mean I’ve never completed anything in my life,” he says. “For me to cross the finish line in that marathon was the first accomplishment I ever made, and then a week later I celebrated my first year [of sobriety], so I had two accomplishments within the same month that year, so those two things are very important to me.”
Now, six years on, Adams is about to run his 13th marathon, and he speaks often about his own experience as proof of how permanent supportive housing works. It’s a powerful message that many homeless advocates like Miriam’s Kitchen are promoting: getting the homeless off the street and into their own houses and apartments is one of the best ways to help them help themselves. Adams says he’s a perfect example of it.
“I’ve had a six-year extension on my life. Most of the people that I hung out with have died. I didn’t plan on being around this long, so now that it’s been six years I’ve actually got to make plans on going back out. Everyone was planning on me dying. I’m waking up one day, I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m going on six years and 13 marathons, I didn’t expect this to happen,’” he says.
Adams admits that he still faces a number of struggles, but at least he doesn’t have to worry about ending up on the street or in an emergency room again.
“I still have that fear I have to get over. I’ve got 35 years of being a failure and things falling apart, so I still have that paranoia. So it’s taken me a while. Some people take longer than others, some people get in this, they’re going to get careers, they’re going to be lawyers and doctors when they get in permanent supportive housing. Some people just start getting a life like me. So does everybody succeed like society wants them to succeed, no, but at least they have someplace to live and get better,” he says.