Homeless Runner an Inspiration to Many


Callie Sleper
Listening House Staff Member

He’s run 14 half-marathons. 5 full marathons. 2,080 miles per year. And he’s 1,713 days sober.

Ricardo Flores Solis makes running look easy; like it’s just something he does to pass the time. However, it is not usual for a homeless person to run as much as Ricardo does.

“I don’t know, I just keep running,” said Ricardo when asked why he runs. Ricardo is a guest and volunteer at Listening House of St. Paul, a community center where homeless, disadvantaged, and lonely people can go to feel welcomed and seek practical assistance. Ricardo joins Listening House staff, volunteers, and other Listening House guests for a weekly Next Steps running club which began in 2013.

“When we invite Listening House guests to join Next Steps running and walking group, we tell them to just show up and do their best,” said Program Director and Next Steps head coach, Julie Borgerding. “For some, that means a 30-minute walk; for others it is marathon training. But, as with any first step, it all begins with showing up, setting goals, and then working to meet or exceed them.” Ricardo, who has been a part of the Next Steps club since its inception, is constantly setting goals for himself and exceeding them. If he tells himself to stop at the next streetlight, he will likely keep running until the following corner.

His favorite place to run is by the Mississippi River and in West St. Paul. Both areas have hills which give him an additional challenge. Plus, there are typically fewer cars around so he can run continuously more easily.

Ricardo lends many other talents to Listening House as well. He is incredibly creative. He makes keychains for Listening House’s Next Steps Race and bracelets for people who come in. When Listening House was open in the evenings downtown, Ricardo often spent that time working on his crop art. In 2015, his Minnesota Gophers piece won first place at the Minnesota State Fair.

“Ricardo is very zen to me,” said Julie. “He is better than anyone I know at living in the moment. He does get stressed; he’s very human. But you’ll hear him laugh with, joke, and tease volunteers. He brings joy and ease. He’s a very hard worker, and I think that’s what a lot of people around Listening House see first.”

Ricardo is an inspiration to his peers. Guests see a man who has worked through struggles with drugs and personal setbacks and shows them that change, difficult though it may be, is always possible. However, achieving goals wasn’t always easy for Ricardo.

“Running changed my life because everybody loves me,” Ricardo said. “Before, when you’re on drugs, no one loves you because, all the time—you’re in trouble. One day I was drinking and I felt bad or I smoked weed and felt tired all day. I told myself, ‘I’m done—I quit!’ Later I found Julie and she helped me start running. Listening House helps me because they keep me here and I can stay. They help me a lot; they give me everything.”

Julie compared Ricardo’s attitude to many other runners with more privilege, including her own. “I ran a marathon in Duluth once and afterwards was able to ease my soreness at a snazzy resort,” said Julie. “After Ricardo ran the Twin Cities marathon, I saw him eat a hamburger. You wouldn’t even know that he was sleeping that night in a tent because all he was thinking was, ‘Isn’t this hamburger good?’”

Running is a huge part of Ricardo’s life. His face lights up when he describes running in his favorite local races, even if it includes near zero temperatures and trying to see through his frozen eye lashes. He hopes to win Listening House’s annual Next Steps race this year. Last year, he placed third. This year, he’s hoping for the gold.

Listening House’s Next Steps 5K race and 1 mile walk, made possible by Anderson Race Management, takes place at 8:00 AM on May 20th, 2018. It will be held at Upper Landing Park in St. Paul. There, you will see Ricardo and the magic of Listening House in action.

To register for the race, please click here

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