YMCA of Central Ohio

The Good Life | YMCA volunteer prepares residents for the long run

When he crossed the finish line last month at the Ohio State Four-Miler, Doug Del Vigna wasn’t done running.

He didn’t collect his medal right away; instead, he returned to the pack of thousands to find a member of the Columbus Sole team to accompany to the end.

Along with two other “mentors,” Del Vigna wanted to ensure that all five Columbus Sole members completed the race.

“We have a variety of skill levels,” said the Grandview Heights resident, who founded the group in the summer.

“One can run sub-eight-minute miles, and one’s a walker.”

Race times, though, matter little to Columbus Sole, whose members live at the Downtown YMCA.

“The running team is a vehicle to get them to develop connections, commitment, trust and accomplishment,” said Del Vigna, a 38-year-old pilot and avid runner.

“It’s a peace away from all the other challenges of life.”

The Ohio State Four-Miler, a fundraiser for cancer research, marked the first of many races for which Del Vigna plans to encourage YMCA residents — and, in the future, other homeless people — to train.

Although the residents need basic help in finding a job, permanent housing or maybe even their next meal, Del Vigna thought he could make a difference, too, by establishing a running program.

Before he could get Columbus Sole off its feet, however, he had to outfit team members in proper footwear. (The retailer FrontRunner donated shoes and socks.)

Three months ago, YMCA officials identified nine men for the group; five chose to take part, signing a contract with Del Vigna pledging not to miss more than five practices during the 10 weeks of training.

The runners followed a 5-kilometer training schedule, taking short walks and gradually reaching longer runs.

With the weather having turned wintry, the group is now practicing just once a week, usually inside the YMCA gym.

Training will pick up in February for a spring race.

Before he joined the group, Cedric Campbell hadn’t imagined running a mile, let alone 4 miles. (He finished the race in 54 minutes.)

“Are you kidding me?” said the 61-year-old, a YMCA resident for almost three years.

“I would cross the street and almost pass out.”

His success, he said, has boosted his confidence.

“Now I think: ‘Maybe you can do that. I could try yoga or run a marathon.’”

YMCA staff members have witnessed attitude changes with other team members, including two who recently found their own places.

The program has allowed them to assume a label other than homeless, said YMCA Executive Director Sue Darby, who watched the men attach their numbers to their matching bright-blue shirts before the Nov. 10 race.

Now, they are runners.

“Pinning on that number was so positive,” Darby said.

Beyond monetary and in-kind donations, she said, volunteer time especially counts.

Del Vigna, she said, has encouraged one runner to visit his young son more often and helped all the team members learn to trust one another.

“There was this shift,” Darby said, “of going from their problems pushing them around to their dreams leading them.”

Next year, YMCA officials plan to open the program to all 400 residents.

Del Vigna is seeking help with three-times-a-week training runs on the Scioto Trail.

He is surprised at how close the team members have become — a sentiment echoed by Campbell.

“Participating in this has brought a great relationship here,” he said. “I would’ve missed that."

For more information about Columbus Sole, email Doug Del Vigna atddelvigna@gmail.com.

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