Q&A: Chelsea Knotts, organizer of a 5K run for homeless and impoverished runners

Starting in June, Chelsea Knotts, a senior at the University of Tennessee, began a 5K running group through Redeeming Hope Ministries that includes a handful of homeless and impoverished runners. On Nov. 12, she'll organize the Running with Hope 5k and 1 Mile Fun Run to benefit the non-profit.

What's the purpose of the group?

Right now, we're training for a 5K to be held Nov. 12 that will benefit Redeeming Hope Ministries.

Are many of your group homeless?

Maybe five or six—homeless or below the poverty line. A couple may have a home but still not be able to afford running gear or join a fitness club. So what we do is three days a week, we have a light breakfast available and we walk and run. And for those who need it, there are shorts, T-shirts, shoes, and socks. Sweet Feet provided all of that.

So the sponsoring is all taken care of?

Not all. Right now there's one outfit each, so we're taking the outfit at the end and laundering it for next time. We're trying to get people to sponsor one of the athletes so they'll have another running outfit, too, that they can just wear on their own time.

What's your role at Redeeming Hope?

I'm just a volunteer. I started the running group, and I'm directing the 5K, and I write articles about it for The Amplifier [a "voice for social change" newspaper produced at Redeeming Hope and sold by homeless vendors].

What's your running background?

I'm a UT athlete; I run for the Lady Vols. And I've run since the 6th grade.

Are you from this area?

I'm from West Virginia—a very small place, not even a city, barely a town, called Ripley.

So not much experience with the homeless from there?

True. Some people in Ripley are probably below the poverty line, but I don't know that I'd ever seen a homeless person there. Here, there seems to be a whole lot of homeless.

What's your goal with the homeless runners?

Mostly just to get them out there! I was really surprised when we started how in shape they are, mostly because they spend a lot of time walking from place to place.

Where are you at with the training?

We're doing four minutes solid running, 90 seconds walking, three or four times each day—we've gotten up to doing that. But we have to play it by ear. Sometimes the runners haven't had much to eat the day before, so we don't want to overdo it. I don't want anyone to get hurt.

When are you running?

Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, at eight in the morning.

Is that too early for some?

No. A lot of times some people show up 40 minutes early! Saturdays are sometimes hard, because they're coming from far away places to Fort Sanders, and the trolley doesn't run on Saturdays.

What inspired you to start a running club?

I just wanted to contribute to the ministry in a unique way. One of the main priorities at Redeeming Hope is overall wellness and empowerment for the homeless and impoverished. I thought a running group would be a good way to highlight daily exercise, and hopefully foster a sense of commitment and goal-setting that would help them in other aspects of their lives. And I wanted to foster a sense of community. This is open to anyone who wants to come, and that's part of the point, we're all runners. If anyone homeless would like to come, then we hope to get them the things they need to join.

To sponsor runners or join the group, e-mail Knotts at chelsea@redeeminghope.com; to learn more about the Nov. 12 5K, visit redeeminghope.com.