ARC grad runs Boston Marathon

Willie Bland credits God, discipline.

by Sue Schumann Warner –

“God gives us the spirit of love, power, and self-discipline,” says Phoenix, Ariz., Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) graduate Willie Bland, 52. “If we recognize what he gave us, and discipline ourselves, we can accomplish what we set out to do.”

Bland, who recently completed the Boston Marathon, knows what he’s talking about. The ARC employee and resident manager of the Bridge House (transitional housing) is a soldier at the Phoenix Citadel Corps, teaches a Bible study and leads devotions at the ARC…and is upping the miles he logs to train for next year’s marathon.

Boston was a long way from his birth in Meridian, Miss., his upbringing in church and faith in God, and his graduation as high school valedictorian in Racine, Wis. Along his journey, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Carroll College in Wis., and a master’s degree in communications from Marquette University, Wisc.

Unfortunately, in time he acquired a drug addiction and was arrested; in 2001 he met The Salvation Army when he enrolled in the Phoenix ARC program. After graduating, he became assistant manager of the thrift store—and seemed to be on the right track until he relapsed, and ended up in prison.

There, he started reading the Bible again, and the former high school athlete decided to develop an exercise program to get in shape—and to change his life.

“After I was paroled, in 2006, I entered the ARC here—again,” he explains. “I became an adherent after I graduated, and a year ago I was enrolled as a soldier at the Citadel Corps.”
That was around the time he ran his first marathon, in Phoenix. To train, he calculated the distance around the perimeter of the ARC’s parking lot, and ran around the lot for an hour every day after work. On weekends, he ran the seven miles up and seven miles down South Mountain. “That’s a half marathon,” he notes. Sunday runs lasted two to three hours.
In 2007, he ran the P.F. Chang Phoenix Marathon, and missed the cutoff for Boston by 10 minutes. This year, he qualified for his age group at 3:29.

With a smile, he explains that his official time in Boston was 3:28, which put him in the top 25 percent overall, and the top 10 percent for his age group. Even so, next year he hopes to trim some minutes.

He’s set another goal: Salvation Army officership. Bland attended the Future Officers Fellowship this February and has been preliminarily accepted as a candidate to enter the College for Officer Training this September. “I feel called to corps or missions work,” he says.

No doubt, he’ll find time to run as well.

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