Anthony Blue, who lives at Helping Up Mission (rear), will compete… (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
He sees them, on occasion, while jogging city streets — the vagrants, addicts and pushers who were part of Anthony Blue's past.
From the shadows, they watch him, all cleaned up and going somewhere, with suspicion.
"Blue? Is that you?"
"Of course it's me," he tells them. "I'm just not using now."
And he keeps on running.
On Saturday, Blue, once a skid-row junkie and drug dealer, will compete in the half-marathon in the Baltimore Running Festival. The man who used to run from the law now runs for a cause: The Helping Up Mission, his home since 2009.
At 51, Blue has turned his life around. Drug-free for 21/2 years, he has two steady jobs and a dream to get his own place, maybe even a car.
"Never had one before," he said.
Until then, his legs will carry him everywhere — including, he hopes, the finish line of Saturday's 13.1-mile race.
"I'm going to do my best to pull this off," he said. "I'm not running for speed or anything. It's just a goal that I've committed to. I'm going to run, walk and crawl, whatever it takes to get across the finish."
Last year he ran the 5K. For someone who was homeless for seven years, he said, the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming.
"I liked hearing the crowd. As I passed by, in my team's lime green shirt, they yelled, 'Go Mission!' " he said.
"It gave me a boost of energy to run, oh, at least 20 more feet."
Those who know Blue said they won't count him out this time around.
"He can do it, if he has the patience to pace himself," said Barry Burnett, captain of Team HUM and a staffer at the mission on East Baltimore Street. "Anthony is part of our group that gets out there at 5:30 in the morning to train — rain or shine."
When Blue finished the 5K in last year's festival, Burnett said, the light bulb came on. Blue knew what hard work could do.
"I remember the smile he had on his face afterward," Burnett said. "We are guys who've always doubted ourselves, failed so much and beaten ourselves up mentally. As runners, we find we can push ourselves past our comfort zones, go the extra mile and succeed where we never have before. Running helps us to believe in ourselves and to wonder if we have any limits."
It's a heady feeling for Blue, a graduate of Southern who used to roam the streets he now runs.
"I'd sleep wherever I could, in abandoned buildings with no windows, no heat," he said. "Before I lay down, I'd try to clean it up a little bit. If there was broken glass on the floor, I'd find a piece of cardboard and sweep it out of the way.
"I could have gone home at any time, knocked on the door and asked my mother for help. But I was caught up in my addiction and I didn't want her to see me like that."
Finally, Blue bottomed out. Hooked on opiates and saddled with both high blood pressure and asthma, he sought help.
It took him another 18 months to summon the courage to join the mission's running team.
"When you're coming out of the 'storm,' you start to get your physical abilities back," he said. "When I finally did suit up to run with them [before dawn], in a freezing drizzle, I saw everyone smiling. And I'm, like, what's going on? Why are they happy? But I liked it.
"You get into your groove, your running zone, and everything goes away. You're free-spirited. No worries. No nothing. You just get out and jog."
Blue continues to run despite working 70 hours a week as a floor technician at both University of Maryland Medical Center and BWI Marshall Airport.
"Anthony has blossomed here," said Tom Bond, program director at the mission. "When you first walk in this door and you want to move forward though your whole life has been napalmed behind you, it's a scary time. But this is a quiet, humble, hardworking guy with a lot of intestinal fortitude who has really grown over the last three years
"Recovery for all of us is a lifelong process. Along the way, we'll need all of the tools we can stick in our tool belt — and that includes running."
If you go
The 2012 Baltimore Running Festival runs through much of the morning Saturday. The starting time for the Baltimore Marathon and the Legg Mason Team Relay is 8 a.m. at the corner of Russell and Camden streets. The 5K runs begins at 8:15 a.m. at the corner of Paca and Pratt streets. The kids Fun Run is set for 9:20 a.m. (runners age 7 and under) and 9:30 a.m. (kids 8-12) at the Kids Fun Zone on Lot C at the stadium complex. The half-marathon begins at 9:45 a.m. at the corner of Conway and Light streets. Marathon runners should start arriving at the finish line around 10:15a.m. For more Iinformation, including a full events listing, go to: thebaltimoremarathon.com.