Health Hero Challenge

Meet a Health Hero: Ramon Laboy

"I love it when I can help our members, who are experiencing homelessness, to see that they are more than their circumstances."

» You can vote for Ramon here from August 22nd through September 18th.

Name: Ramon Laboy

Role: Program director at Back on My Feet Philadelphia, which works to combat homelessness through running.

What motivates you to try and make Philadelphia a healthier place?
I was very fortunate to have grown up in a home with two parents, both of whom encouraged me to be outside playing and active. From a very early age I can remember so much satisfaction testing my body’s limits, whether it was climbing a tall tree or running myself to exhaustion around Danbury, CT. It was during these formative years I would not only realize but continue to strive towards “better.” I believe too many kids grow up having zero awareness surrounding their own strengths or capabilities due to lack of supports. I struggled throughout my entire academic career, test anxiety and feelings of self-worth tied to grades made school a very tough environment for me to excel in. However, through sports and a strong support system reminding me that I am capable of “more,” I was able to overcome and obtain my graduate degree nearly 10 years ago. My childhood and adolescent experience taught me that with the right support system, positive mindset and hard work will pay off.

Since receiving my Masters in Social Work, it has been my life’s mission to help others realize that they are capable of being a healthier, more successful person, no matter what their past might look like. Back on My Feet is a program that uses running as a springboard to help Philadelphians experiencing homelessness get plugged back into society. At Back on My Feet, I feel motivated when I see long-term changes in those that I help to serve in the community, both in running and in their path towards independence. I love it when I can help our members, who are experiencing homelessness, to see that they are more than their circumstances — they are more than their label of ‘homeless’ individuals. Back on My Feet’s program does a wonderful job dispelling myths and unveiling the untapped talents within folks who just need a stronger support system. Running provides a support system. My role as our Program Director is to build this supportive community of those within the shelters and volunteers – helping individuals to learn, grow and push one another in both their fitness and life goals. The people who make up this city are so amazing and I love being a part of a community that is heading in a positive direction!

Describe a health or fitness-related turning point in your life.
As discussed above, I was very active and fitness-minded from an early age. However, it became very apparent that running would have a very profound and influential impact on my life when I was in 6th grade. I was the kind of kid most of my peers were annoyed with because I got way too excited about gym class. During the physical fitness evaluation during my 6th grade year, I ran the fastest mile amongst the middle schoolers. The thought of being “the best” at something for the first time in my life was fairly life-changing, especially as I struggled with my school work, and I was hooked on running. I continued to run throughout my middle and high-school career and was fortunate enough to earn a full scholarship into one of the finest Division 1 cross country programs in the country as an undergraduate. Although the competitive nature of my running career has come to an end, the psychological and physical benefits I continue to receive from running have kept me running to this day.

What policy would you institute to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier region?
This is a really tough question. However, as I’ve transitioned from direct service roles into management roles, I’ve been privileged to higher level meetings and conversations on homelessness, addiction and local policy. Although I’m extremely grateful for the experience, I often walk away feeling as though something is missing. The voices of those experiencing homelessness and other complex hardships are often missing from important conversations that directly impact them.

Serving individuals who have lived/are living through extremely complex hardships like homelessness, addition and backgrounds of incarceration, abuse and more, I am often floored by the amount of resilience of the people whom I serve. I believe that by incorporating the voices of these most vulnerable communities into higher level meetings, our city will become better informed and ultimately better equipped to serve these men and women and make our city an even greater community because it is inclusive of all of us.

What’s the most important part of your health or wellness regimen?
I wholeheartedly believe that the most important aspect of my health and wellness regiment is to prioritize my time with myself to reflect. Like most people, it’s very easy for me to get caught spending most of my workday multitasking. Self-reflection while running continues to provide me with a continued renewal of spirit and mind. After 10 years in the social work field, I am happy to say that I am still as excited about serving underprivileged populations as I was when I was handed my degree.

What is your number one piece of health-related advice or encouragement?
One piece of advice that has continued to ring true in all aspects of my life is that sometimes I need to slow down to speed up. Whether it’s running, professional or relationship barriers, I often find that I make more progress when I take a step back and try to organize a plan to reach my goals. I have an easier time visualizing the bigger picture of a situation when I take more time planning and less time forcing situations to happen. This concept is a tough one to grasp as our society moves deeper and deeper into the instant gratification trap. However, for those who are able to step back, create a plan, work hard and pace themselves, they usually find they surpass all of their expectations. That’s exactly what we do here at Back on My Feet and that’s why I love what I do.

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