Running club in Lakeland is helping homeless men regain their health and lives

Former Rays player Steve Pearce donated shoes
Posted at 3:22 AM, Jun 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-06 06:24:24-04

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Matt Nipper had nothing in common with the men he wanted to help.

He works at the Church at the Mall in Lakeland. They are homeless. Some are addicted to drugs.

Lighthouse Ministries is helping the men to turn their lives around.

So one day Nipper asked if the men wanted to go for a run around the neighborhood with him.

“I smoked so many drugs, cigarettes. I drank alcohol. I can’t run!” says Cliff, who lost his job and his family. “But that first time, I ran four miles.”

“I said, ‘Just don’t quit.’ And they didn’t," says Nipper with a big smile on his face. "The next day they were all back."

Soon Nipper’s small running club Team Lighthouse grew to as many as 25 people. The men grew healthier and more confident. They began making changes in their lives. Cliff reconnected with family.

There was more good news.

Nipper used to throw batting practice for his friend, Lakeland native Steve Pearce.

Peace is a Major League Baseball player and former Tampa Bay Ray. When he heard about the running program, he made sure dozens of New Balance running shoes found the feet of these inspiring men.

Nipper and his crew will run in Lakeland’s Watermelon 5K Series this weekend.

Cliff’s mom is cheering on his new hobby. But now, he does not just want to participate -- he wants to win.