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Still Kickin Hero July 2016

Every month, we provide financial support to an awesome person or family going through something awful. Meet Dave.

Dave Baker thinks that meeting at 6 a.m. on a Friday is a perfectly reasonable request. And apparently, so do dozens of other people, because the showroom at Mill City Running on a humid June morning is packed with runners ready to get in a few miles in celebration of Flapjack Friday.

We still have sleep in our eyes and sheet marks on our faces, but Dave is ready to run, bouncing from foot to foot and nodding his head enthusiastically while we make our introductions.

Dave is 49, short and fit and deeply tanned, and when the runners pour out the front door of the shop toward the Mississippi, he’s in the middle of the pack, light on his feet and as he disappears down East Hennepin.

It’s his second run of the day, technically, since he ran 3 miles to Mill City from the shelter he woke up in this morning.

"If you’d have told me I’d be in a shelter at age 49, I’d ask you to stop smoking whatever you’re smoking…" Dave says.

Like every one of our Heroes, this isn’t exactly where Dave planned to be. He had a family, a career, a college degree and a history as a college athlete. But it can happen to anybody, and it did.

First, the unraveling of a marriage. A career shift gone wrong. A pile of bills that kept compounding meant giving up the apartment he’d had for a decade in favor of friends’ couches and, when their generosity hit the limit… a shelter.

He was down, for sure, but not out, so he regrouped and found a job that would help him turn it all around. Except he wasn’t feeling quite himself, and he had a gut feeling he knew why, that the same rare disease that had claimed his grandfather and mother and his uncles was taking room inside of him, causing that bouncing head, a few involuntary jerks.

He was right. It was Huntington’s Disease. The job offer disappeared. But something new appeared in his path. A flyer, for an introductory running group called Mile in My Shoes, who provide group run training to people experiencing homelessness.

Exercise, his doctor had told him, could help control his symptoms. And endorphins never hurt anyone, either.

So, Dave ran. Just a few slow miles at first, and then more. A runner’s high was a hell of a drug, it turns out, and the running community rallied around him. He became a coach with Mile in my Shoes, a regular at Mill City Running.

"I defy you to find someone in a shelter who is in a better spot than I am. My community, the support I have ... for someone who isn’t in a great place, I’m in a decent place," he says.

There’s no cure for Huntington’s, and Dave still starts and ends his days in the shelter, but he doesn’t need your pity. He’s got too much to do still.

"I’m a big believer in life. In getting back to life, no matter how many times you get knocked down."

When you shop our merch or make a donation, you help people like Dave get through the hard stuff. Make a purchase at StillKickin.Co/Collections. Or donate at GiveMN.Org/StillKickin.