Member Spotlight: Steve Tierney of Up and Running Again

Michael Miller  ·  Feb 27, 2018

A life-changing event for Steve Tierney has led to changed lives for more than 700 other people who have taken part in the ministry he started, Up and Running Again.

Heather was a homeless, suicidal addict who turned her life around by training for a half-marathon. “It just showed me, when the Lord is with you, you can really do anything,” she says in an Up and Running Again promotional video.

Diana, 66, who has COPD, had never run in her life, but gave Up and Running Again a try and finished a half-marathon. “I’m still supposed to be on oxygen, and I signed up again,” she says. “If I can do it, you can do it.”

Martel, a resident at the San Diego Rescue Mission, ran the half in a fast 1 hour and 27 minutes.

Ashlee lost 110 pounds training with Up and Running Again.

Others have lost weight, gotten jobs, or gone to school.

All of it is thanks to the ministry the Lord led Steve to start in 2009.

A partner in the southern California accounting firm of Nienow & Tierney, LLP, Steve decided to start training for a marathon after attending a goal-setting seminar. Using a “couch-to-marathon” type of program, he progressed from walk-run workouts for 30 minutes to full running sessions of several miles.

“Each week that I added a mile to my long run, I was getting this amazing positive reinforcement that says, ‘Hey, you’re doing something you’ve never done before in your entire life,’” Steve says. “How often can you tell yourself you’ve done that?”

Nine months after starting his program, he ran the 2008 Long Beach Marathon.

“It was life-changing,” he says. “It was kind of like you have those milestones of getting married, you have your kids, you get your CPA license, you begin your relationship with the Lord … this was right there with them.”

Steve continued running because he didn’t want to be “the guy who could just run five minutes.” And then he heard about an organization with a running program for the homeless on the other coast. He contacted them to see if they’d be interested in doing a similar program in California, but he never heard back from them.

“I thought, ‘Well, this is just too good to pass up,’” he says.

He set up a September 2009 meeting with Jim Palmer, the president of the Orange County Rescue Mission, to see if he’d be open to a half-marathon training program for residents, but hesitated at the lunch.

“I felt God pushing me, saying, ‘You just need to ask,’” Steve says. “This whole lunch I’m just kind of going, ‘This is crazy, this is stupid. You’re an accountant. You don’t do these kinds of things.’”

At the end of the lunch, though, Steve finally decided that it was now or never. He asked the mission president whether he would be interested in a half-marathon training program for the mission’s residents.

“Almost without blinking an eye, he said, ‘Yes, absolutely. Let’s do it,’” recalls Steve, who then wondered, “OK, now what do I do?” He wasn’t a coach; he had trained by reading a marathon training book for nonrunners.

The answer was to take it one stride at a time.

Steve met with the mission’s program coordinator later that month, and then some of the interested residents in October.

“The first time I met with residents, I remember looking around the room thinking, ‘That person’s not going to make it, that person is not going to make it, that person is totally wasting my time,’” he says.

But on November 1, 2009, Steve and some volunteers started running with about 20 residents from the Orange County mission.

“God’s fingerprints were just all throughout this,” he says. “To be able to go from idea to implementation in like a month and a half just seems kind of like … beyond.”

Fourteen weeks later, on February 7, 2010, 13 residents of the Orange County Rescue Mission ran the Surf City Half-Marathon.

Those people he thought wouldn’t make it?  “I couldn’t have been more wrong,” he says.

“We had a gal that was 54 years old, smoked her whole life, was about 30 pounds overweight—she completed the half-marathon,” Steve says. “I’m not going to say she was fast, because I think I saw a pregnant lady walking faster than she was running, but she did it, and it changed her life. She’s got a job. She moved out of the mission. But that medal she got for doing that half-marathon means a ton to her.”

Up and Running Again had its first success, and it soon spread. Training programs are now held at six different rescue missions—Orange County, Long Beach Rescue Mission, San Diego Rescue Mission, Union Gospel Mission in Spokane, Washington, and Las Vegas Rescue Mission. Other missions they’ve worked with in the past include Portland Rescue Mission, Seattle Rescue Mission, Grace Centers of Hope in Michigan, and an organization in Sacramento, as well as with underprivileged children in Santa Ana. The program sticks to missions with residential programs, since they have to ask the runners to get up at 6 a.m. four days a week for workouts and need participants who are in a stable environment.

The program also now has an executive director and tries to get two coaches at every site.

Used running shoes are given to participants at the beginning of the program and then, if the residents complete 20 out of 24 training runs, are replaced with new ones. After a few more weeks, those still hanging in there are entered in a race, again with fees paid by donations.

The training programs are all similar in structure, starting with walk-run-walk workouts like Steve did.

Steve says relationships are built through the training programs.

“We try not to hit people over the head with the Gospel all the time,” Steve says. “But we pray before we go out running. On Saturdays, we do a mini-devotional as well. But there’s a lot of relationship building, and, ‘Hey, where are you at in your spiritual walk?”, that one-on-one. The more you get to know people, the more that they’re willing to share some of those background stories in what’s gone on and what’s happened in their life. There’s a chance to kind of mentor in that situation.”

Finally, a carb-loading banquet is held on the eve of a race, with a pastor or other speaker presenting the Gospel.

“We say, ‘We’ve been working with you for 14 weeks. We’ve spent our blood, sweat and tears, and given up sleep, and we love you, so let us share about a God that loves you more than we could,’” Steve says.

Finally, it’s race day. Steve and other volunteers typically run with their trainees. In fact, Steve has now run 60 half-marathons since Up and Running Again began. It’s at the race that some of the more emotional results occur, he says.

“We’ve seen amazing reconciliations,” Steve says. “Parents or kids have come to the race to see someone they haven’t seen in several years. They want to see mom or dad cross that finish line. We see single moms with their kids at the finish line, and mom can take that medal from around her neck and put it around the neck of their young son or daughter.”

There’s also value in helping a mission resident get into better shape.

“Rescue missions do a great job in their spiritual walk, in teaching job skills, maybe in mental training, but they don’t always have a real good physical fitness component,” Steve says. “When you feel good about yourself physically, it translates into how you feel about yourself spiritually. When you go to those job interviews, you think, ‘I look good, I feel good, I’m going to nail this job interview.’ We kind of offer what I think is helping to make a well-rounded person.”