When the Los Angeles Marathon crosses the city this March 15, a group of runners from the local Midnight Mission Running Club won’t be racing towards the Santa Monica Pier—they’ll be packing their bags, checking into flights, and mentally preparing to traverse a different 26.2 miles more than 6,300 miles away.
A number of the club’s members (it’s now looking like 12), will depart for Italy on March 16; there they’ll compete in the Rome Marathon alongside Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell. Then, if a connection through a German cardinal pulls through, they’ll have an arranged encounter with Pope Francis.
Mitchell helped found the running club—which is open to the public but largely comprised of men and women aided by Skid Row’s Midnight Mission, an organization which provides food, shelter, and services including addiction recovery programs to the homeless—more than two years ago. Today, he says he’s humbled to help fund an experience that could save lives.
“Several of our runners haven’t ever been on a plane let alone out of the state,” he said when asked why he organized the group’s upcoming trip. “And when they learn that they have an opportunity to travel to Rome, to travel to sites they have only seen in the news or in books, let alone an opportunity to perhaps meet the Pope—it’s incredibly motivational. The reality of being in recovery day in and day out, of living in a dormitory with 200 men and all the smells and the noises and the attitudes and everything else they have to put up with—there has got to be some motivation. What the running club and the chance to go some place like Rome provides, is, Dagnabbit, Even if I’m having a bad day, I’m going to keep with it because I don’t want to miss out on this opportunity.”
Mitchell says mentoring through the Midnight Mission has taught him not to foreclose on any possibility. “The most tragic things happen, the most wonderful things happen; Welcome to the human experience.”