Running Marathons to Get Back on His Feet

May 21, 2019 Updated: May 21, 2019

NEW YORK–Running isn’t only healthy, the exercise and routine can transform lives. One man overcame substance abuse, homelessness, and incarceration by putting one foot in front of the other.

Derek Drescher grew up under circumstance no child should have to contend with, but many unfortunately do.

The native New Yorker was raised primarily by his grandmother for a period of time. She was an alcoholic, and passed away when he was just 12 years old.

Within a few months, Drescher was getting in trouble with the law. He found himself in and out of juvenile detention and group homes.

When he turned 18, he enlisted in the United States Army like his uncle and grandfathers before him in an effort to escape from New York.

Drescher was deployed to South Korea after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The trauma of his childhood continued into his experience in the military.

Falling Down

His division was involved in an accident in which two children were killed, and Drescher was also injured while on deployment.

Ultimately, Drescher received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army. However, life would prove difficult upon his return home.

“Given the way I had grown up, things not always being that structured, I had a hard time expressing how I felt in a healthy way,” Drescher told The Epoch Times.

Drescher struggled at home
Derek Drescher (C) struggled when he returned home from his deployment in South Korea. (Eric Wiley)

He continued to struggle with the passing of his grandmother, and how to contend with his childhood and experience in the military.

Drescher then slipped into a heroin addiction in order to cope with his feelings. He was in and out places to live, and found himself homeless. He also got into trouble with the law, and has been arrested over 30 times.

A Glimmer of Hope

The cycle of substance abuse, incarceration, and homelessness lasted from age 12 to age 33. Drescher experienced a brief turning point when his daughter Olivia was born.

“I did good for a while. I was proud I was a father,” Drescher explained.

Drescher found himself doing well for a few months. After living in a halfway house, he was able to find a place to stay at the 43rd St. Veterans Program in 2014.

Drescher at an event
Derek Drescher (R) at a Back on My Feet event. (Courtesy of Ben Ko Photography)

After entering the program, Drescher was able to maintain his sobriety. One day, he was speaking with another veteran who told him about a organization called Back on My Feet.

The non-profit helps the homeless find employment and housing, and uses running as tool to help people get there.

Initially, Drescher was skeptical of the organization. He was antisocial toward the members of the team, and wasn’t receptive to running. At the time, he was 1o months sober.

Getting Back Up

Unfortunately, he was arrested again for an outstanding warrant. While he was waiting to see if he would be indicted, he began to reflect on himself and the way he had treated the volunteers from Back on My Feet.

“I was thinking the Back on My Feet people were always really nice to me, and I was not nice to them at all, but I could tell that they really cared,” Drescher recalled.

After he was released, he called the director of the program and asked if he could be back on the team. She told him that he had always been on the team, and that he was more than welcome.

Drescher during the 2017 New York City Marathon
Derek Drescher running in the 2017 New York City Marathon. (Courtesy of MarathonFoto)

Drescher became more open to the people on the team, and in turn he formed meaningful relationships with the runners and the volunteers.

“The way I looked at the world completely changed. I had always looked at it like it was a bad thing, and I had seen the evil side of people and myself for so long that I just always was looking at the negative in things,” Drescher said.

Running Through It

The beginning of his training was rough. It took Drescher 14 minutes to run a mile at first, and he found himself struggling to breathe. He was also overweight at 230 pounds, which made the beginning even more difficult.

Nevertheless, Drescher got into better shape over time. The team dynamic also made the process of learning how to run more conducive.

Before he knew it, he was running six, eight, and 10 miles at a time.

Furthermore, he made progress in other areas of his life as well. The desire to never go back to prison helped him stay the course. He was also able to find a full-time job and his own apartment.

Drescher ran his first marathon in New York in November 2016, which was a particularly memorable experience. At mile 25 he began crying, but pulled himself together to finish in three hours 58 minutes and 46 seconds.

“I was in awe when I saw that I actually did it in under four hours,” Drescher said.

He ran his second marathon in 2017, and will run his third in New York this November. He has also completed two ultra marathons. Moreover, he’s currently the Alumni Coordinator for the New York chapter of Back on My Feet.