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David Cook
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Visit welcomehomeofchattanooga.com or join them at the Welcome Home Night for the Chattanooga Lookouts on Saturday, May 25.

 

There in the desert, 20 miles from nowhere, as the wind began to howl and the rain turned awful and cold, Clayton Crouch thought of two, maybe three things.

His father.

Homelessness.

And love.

The morning had started well enough. Crouch, 29, woke up at 4 a.m., far from his Brooklyn bed, and began to eat: it was race day. He'd need the calories. Thousands of them.

It was March; Crouch, who grew up in Chattanooga, had traveled with his brother to Arizona for the Monument Valley 50-mile trail race.

At the starting line, the rising sun had painted orange the desert mesas; a Navajo elder gave the early morning prayer: "Be still within yourself and know that the trail is beautiful."

Crouch felt a deep peace, hugged his brother, then the race began: 50 miles through the desert.

Around mile 30, things fell apart.

The rain turned cold.

The wind cranked up.

Crouch began to crumble.

"I wilted into myself," he said. "My gait had shortened to an ugly trot. I kept making pathetic grunts."

Runners everywhere know what came next: Crouch had to get his mind right.

"I tried with my everything to harness the real reason why I was out here in the rainy, cold desert trying to run 50 miles," he said.

He thought about his girlfriend, who had lovingly supported his training: five-hour runs on Saturday, five-hour runs on Sunday.

He thought of family and friends who'd emailed, texted and called to support. (Crouch graduated McCallie School in 2009.)

He thought about his dad: well-known Chattanoogan John "Clay" Crouch.

"He was just the most outgoing, eccentric, wonderful Chattanoogan," said his son.

As many of you know, "Clay" Crouch died Nov. 17, 2017.

In his last days, the family had called in hospice care.

There in the desert, as the race-day storm grew, Crouch thought about one nurse named Deb.

One afternoon, Deb was leaving after a long shift; Crouch made conversation: where are you going now?

I'm going to volunteer at Welcome Home, she said.

Crouch had never heard of it. Welcome Home of Chattanooga, located in a home on Germantown Road, is like no other nonprofit in the area, with a most beautiful mission.

"We provide shelter and love for those who have nowhere to go for end-of-life care," said Sherry Campbell, who directs Welcome Home.

The more Crouch learned, the more he fell in love with the mission. He began to visit Welcome Home. Got to know Campbell, the residents, the volunteers.

"In Chattanooga, 40 people on the streets died last year," Crouch said. "In their shoes, what is it like to know that your life is ending and questioning whether anyone even cares?"

Since opening in 2015, it has welcomed 42 men and women into its care. Volunteers and staff offer home-cooked meals, medical care and welcoming love for those who are sick and dying with nowhere else to go.

Homeless veterans.

Homeless mothers.

Homeless grandfathers.

Homeless sons and daughters.

After his father's death, Crouch, a five-time marathoner who also runs an export management business, made a vow: he would support Welcome Home.

And he would do it by running.

Welcome Home is nearing the end of its $200,000 We Are Home campaign to build a new home. Crouch promised to raise $6,000.

In the end, donors near and far helped him raise $10,000.

"I was speechless," said Campbell.

That's why he was in Monument Valley, running through the desert storm.

That's why, with 20 miles to go, he began to think of homelessness, his father and love.

"I then thought about the volunteers and caregivers at Welcome Home. Those selfless people that drove from all over the tri-state area to a little house on Germantown Road to give unwavering love and care and time to strangers in need," he said.

That's why, there at 20 miles, with his legs wilting in the blowing wind, Crouch did something rather strange.

"I started laughing," he said.

At himself.

At the idea that this 50-mile race was, you know, difficult.

"Compared to what these people, my heroes, did on a daily basis, my race was like a fun run," he said.

Crouch would finish the race 16th overall, in an outstanding 10 hours, 11 minutes.

More importantly, Crouch reminded us and himself of the unshakably good and profoundly merciful message of Welcome Home of Chattanooga.

"You are loved," he said.

He paused, caught with emotion.

"Here are these Good Samaritans through and through making sure people feel loved at the end of their life," he said. "If anyone is getting into Heaven first, it's these folks."

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329.

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