Running club offers opportunities to create goals and cross finish lines

running club

The running club after finishing the Great Race in Agoura Hills.

When Francisco and his wife first met in high school, they had their whole futures ahead of them. They graduated and Francisco attended college for a few years. They spent 15 years together in Utah, and had two children. But about five years ago, things took a turn.

“We had our lives together and then we both started hanging around the wrong crowd,” he said. “We started getting into trouble and using drugs, and it’s gotten worse and worse over the last couple years.”

“I think we also knew we weren’t happy and started numbing ourselves. I wouldn’t let myself go down the rabbit hole as deeply as she did.”

The couple has two children, 10 and 12, and their daughter has special needs. “She needs constant care,” Francisco said. “It was too much for my wife.”

The family moved to Oxnard to be closer to his family. “I wanted to better myself, but she didn’t,” he said. “She took off on me. I was constantly on the streets trying to find her, but when I did, it would just be a big fight. I chased her for six months. I probably used it as an excuse to be out there too, using drugs.”

Francisco and his kids lived in their car for six weeks. He’d work odd jobs—painting houses, cleaning yards—while they were in school. They got a voucher for a hotel room, but when Francisco’s wife started coming around, arguments ensued. Eventually the hotel manager called the authorities. When Francisco tested positive for drugs, his kids were taken away.

Francisco had forged a relationship with Brent Ferguson, the outreach coordinator at the Mission. “He’d keep in touch,” Francisco said. “I’d say I was ready to go to the Mission but something would happen—I’d make excuses.”

Finally, Francisco entered the program in January. “I was malnourished and always tired—I’d go days without eating.”

Finish line

Francisco finishing the Elite Sports California
Seaside Marathon 5K-his first event with the running club.

After he started feeling better physically, his spiritual health improved. “It’s been going really good,” he said. “I can say I’m a Christian again! And I’ve been learning a lot about my addictions and triggers. I don’t even think about (drug and alcohol) anymore. We are busy, and if we have idle time, the chaplains are always here for us to talk, and there is always something to do.”

In addition to counseling, Bible study, and vocational training, the Life Recovery Program also offers a slew of other activities to get involved in. There are church outings and outreach opportunities. Volunteer groups come to lead worship nights, recovery classes, and even Bunco games.

One way Francisco has stayed busy is by joining the Mission’s running club, which grew out of an idea from a volunteer from Calvary Ventura, Edgar Rivera (see sidebar). “He was trying to find a way to really share something with the guys,” said Michael Lee, the Mission’s Community Relations Coordinator.

It started with just four or five guys going out for runs on Fridays. In July 2022, six guys—plus Michael and Edgar—participated in their first race, a fundraiser for Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills. “From there, more guys got intrigued,” Lee said.

Nine runners came out for a Turkey Trot and then Santa to the Sea. “In this process of training together and doing all of these events, we’re seeing this mentality of setting goals and achieving them,” said Lee. “The comments some of these guys make stop you in your tracks. I remember one guy telling me, ‘I’ve spent so much of my life running away from things. Now I’m running toward something.’

“Or I heard someone say once, ‘I’ve never crossed a finish line before.’ There’s so much in that simple statement. You can see it, when they run, when they cross that line with so many people there cheering them on—some of these guys have never had support like that. That sense of accomplishment—it’s genuine joy.”

high school. “I thought it would be a little distraction from the house. Now, it’s an opportunity to challenge myself. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve done three or four races. And I like to encourage the guys newer to the team. It brings us a little closer too, and we’re always happy at the end.”

The group has run at the Ventura Pier, Harmon Canyon, the Seabridge area in Oxnard, the Calabasas Stairs, Hueneme Beach, and more. Recently, 19 men competed in the Great Race in Agoura. And this summer, many have been participating in the Boogie Nights running series in Ventura.

“For these guys on a journey of recovery, this has been such a positive thing in their lives,” Lee said. “It feeds them and strengthens them. We’re kicking out the old, bad, unhealthy habits and replacing them with a positive one. It helps them, number one, take care of themselves physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It goes so well with the holistic approach to our program.”

Francisco continues to work the program, enjoy the running club, and spend time with his children each Sunday. He’s looking forward to being reunited with them after crossing another finish line: graduation. “I can’t wait to live with my kids again,” he said. “It’s been too long.”