In Gearing Up, Bicycling Is The Great Equalizer

By Ronnie Polaneczky
Philadelphia Daily News.

I’M OBSESSED these days with Philly stories about how one person’s lone decision, made in a moment of compassion, can change lives.

Take Anne Mahlum. In her teens, she started running to deal with the stress of living in a household beset by addiction.

Running gave her clarity and strength.

One day in 2007, she was on a jog through Center City, wondering what her life‘s purpose was. When she ran past a group of homeless men outside a shelter, she realized it was time to stop running past the men and start running with them.

Thus was born Back On My Feet, Mahlum’s nonprofit, which uses running to help the homeless change how they see themselves so they can make changes that will lead to employment and independence. The program has expanded to 11 other cities, helping thousands of men and women find work and housing.

Then, there’s Jennifer Leary. She’s a former Philly firefighter and Red Cross emergency responder who helped out at a two-alarm fire in Center City a few years ago, where two dogs and a cat had been injured. Their owners screamed for help but there was no organization on hand to help the injured animals. So Leary used her own vehicle to rush the pets to Penn Veterinary Hospital, where they later died.

After a second such event in 2011, Leary created Red Paw, which would work in conjunction with Red Cross responders to provide emergency services to animals during disasters. To date, more than 1,000 animals have been served.

Both Mahlum and Leary have been feted by the CNN Heroes program, which honors ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. Although Mahlum, upon accepting her CNN award, played down the word “hero.”

Where this country has gone wrong, she said, is that “we think that treating others — homeless, black or white, rich or poor — with respect and kindness is heroic.”

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