Homeless But Never Hopeless

In

Ray Glier has written for various media for over 40 years, as a contributor to national publications including The New York Times, Vice Sports, USA TODAY, The Miami Herald, The Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Washington Post. The author of five books, Glier has a passion for master sports and seniors athletes, and shares their stories of triumph and joy in his unique, inspiring, and always moving weekly newsletter, Geezer Jock.

He never said he had given up hope. Not once. The man who has slept on concrete and had a years- long addiction to crack cocaine, sends himself hope daily, as if he is a compulsive Amazon shopper merely clicking a “proceed to checkout” button. Tim has embraced hope for 60-plus years, even as he ran the rat-infested alleyways of Chicago and Louisville. Things will get better, he kept telling himself, as he was buried under the dogpile of what a mean life has to offer. It was his faith, of course, and a cussed stubbornness, that gave him hope. So, understand, this is not a sob story. It is a hope story. These days, Jenkins is especially hopeful. He has broken

the spell of addiction, and he is determined that he can be a Masters track star in 2022 when he is the ripe age of 70. His body, the one he has abused, is his bankroll. He has sculpted it with weights over the last eight years, even when he was homeless, because the Southwest YMCA in Louisville welcomed him.

Jenkins is a newbie to track—he has lined up for just 12 races—so his ceiling is still out of his reach, even as he closes in on 70.

In 2018, with no training, Jenkins broke the Kentucky record in the senior games in the 50-meter dash. He finished second in the 100. The night before the race he slept in his car. Those were his first races in Masters Track.

Jenkins says he wants to win national championships in the 50 and 100 in the 2022 National Senior Games in Ft. Lauderdale (he’s qualified). He wants to win again at the USA Track & Field Masters Championships, which will be held in Lexington, Ky., not far from where he lives.

“I’m due for some home cookin’ at these races,” he said with a little chuckle. Jenkins lives in a small camper in a church parking lot in Louisville, 80 miles from the 2022 USATF meet at the University of Kentucky.

Tim has been on the proverbial back foot for three years as he pursued medals in Masters track. He either over-trained or didn’t train properly. He also didn’t know how to race.

In the 2019 National Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Jenkins showed how unaware he is about competition and how strong he is physically. In the qualifying for the 50-meter dash, the starter commanded “runners to the front of the blocks”, and the ebullient Jenkins jumped to the start line and got in his rigid stance. He remained in a “set” position for 60 seconds before the gun went off. No one told him to relax.

He came out of his starting stance tighter than a drum and injured the arch on a foot on his takeoff. It was his third race, ever, and Jenkins finished 17th hobbling to the finish line. That set position, by the way, was a football player’s three-point stance. Get in a three-point stance on the balls of your feet and see how long you last. 60 seconds? That is some strength.

Jenkins has run in poor footwear, and didn’t understand the value of stretching, only body building. It led to back surgery a year and a half ago.

One by one, Tim said, he has erased these barriers to being a consistent performer in Masters track. He has redoubled his effort the last several months. Jenkins is on the radar. He was The National Senior Games Association Athlete of the Month in November.

“If I could win a national championship, and some people who need help hear my story, maybe they wouldn’t feel hopeless,” he said. “If I do well, I could write a book, make a movie, share it, and do good for people.

“I hope people are encouraged by what I’m trying to do.”

Before showering you with hope, the first scenes of Tim’s movie would make you cringe.

He was one of eight children, born in Louisville, and had an ogre for a father, he said. Bill Jenkins molested Tim when he was 14. He also molested a sister, Tim said. The father then abandoned the family.

Tim was frail as a child and bullied. He had to “bum” lunch money because so many days he went to school hungry. Jenkins said he thinks he has a 4th-grade education and never finished high school. In the ninth grade he could not add or subtract.

It may not be a nice thing to say, but Tim said this: “I was mentally retarded. I really was.”

Jenkins got by because he could repair small engines on lawn mowers, and big engines on cars. His was a cash existence.

Tim looked for salvation wherever he could find it. He joined a church, but it turned out to be a cult. The hierarchy tried to force him into marriage and demanded he follow rules that were plainly illegal.

“I was spiritually molested by that church,” he said.

Jenkins fled to the streets and into the arms of crack cocaine. He had a friend in Chicago who felt ripped off by a drug dealer and went back for his money. The friend never got to the door of the hideout. Tim said he was shot dead on the steps.

For 20 years, Jenkins was addicted to cocaine. He did meth, too, and alcohol, of course. He had run-ins with gangs and several times, he said, barely escaped with his life.

Jenkins turnaround started in 2012 when he said God got stern with him.

“Told me he was tired of having my back and I needed to get my life together,” Jenkins said.

Tim moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the aftermath of the tornado that killed 53 people and destroyed 12 percent of the city. He volunteered with the rebuilding and did small engine repair for money.

And he worked out. Ferociously. He was on his way to losing 30 pounds and muscling up.

Jenkins returned to Louisville in 2013 and used the YMCA as a base. He would squat 225 pounds, 10 times in succession. He was 65, then 66, then 67, and 68. He felt strong. He was strong. Then he heard about the Kentucky Senior Games and thought, “Why not me?”

“I don’t look almost 70,” he said.

These days, Jenkins works part-time (1:30-5:30) for a company that makes auto body parts. His camper is parked in that church parking lot and he takes his meals in there. Chicken, fish, organic eggs, greens.

Louisville is a hub for UPS and jets routinely fly over the camper in the middle of the night. Tim solved that by going to bed at 8 p.m., waking at midnight for two hours, he said, “for time with God” and then goes back to bed.

“I am purpose-driven man now,” he says.

We may find out that Jenkins is a freak, that his physical gifts paired with a drive to win a national championship means he can be special in Masters track.

Jenkins still has demons to deal with and they could yet scuttle his hope-filled story. He talked about nightmares and general restlessness and post-traumatic stress syndrome of having guns pointed at him. Tim has scars and they must be deep psychologically.

Jenkins’ reckoning with himself matters. I don’t want his story to disappear down a memory hole. Somebody will come along who needs to know Tim made it out of a serious mess.

I have hope.

I hope Tim remains poised and in emotional control. He is pouring himself into this quest. Whichever way it goes—win or second, or third, DQ—we want Tim to remain hopeful and forward looking, not just for his sake, but for ours, too.

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