From Broke Gambler to Director of a Running Nonprofit
Terence Gerchberg went from losing everything he owned to changing his life and others’ through running.
Terence Gerchberg says running saved his life.
“You put one foot in front of the other and repeat,” says Gerchberg, the executive director of the New York City chapter of Back on My Feet (BoMF), a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless partly by getting them involved in running. “There are highs and lows but you keep going, just like life.”
Born in New York and raised in Southern California, Gerchberg, 44, played sports as a kid, but never ran. His first race was a 3.5-mile corporate challenge in 2002. But running wasn’t his focus, gambling was. At the time, Gerchberg worked on Wall Street and was still reeling from 9/11, using card games as his escape, an escape that caused him to lose everything. After hitting rock bottom, sleeping on his sister’s couch because he couldn’t afford to pay rent, Gerchberg entered a rehab program in Maryland—and he and a friend entered the lottery to run the New York City Marathon. While in treatment, a friend called to say he had been accepted.
“Running became my catalyst for change,” says Gerchberg, who has since run 13 consecutive New York City Marathons and is registered for his 14th this year. “Running gave me those endorphins and a second chance. I don’t know where I would be without it.”
While training for the 2002 marathon, Gerchberg says he became a “real” runner. “I logged my miles, read Alberto Salazar’s books, picked up magazines.” By 2003, he was coaching others, saying he sees his role as that of a motivator more than a coach.
“There is no ‘S’ on my chest. Anyone is capable of doing what I’ve done,” says Gerchberg, who has a marathon personal best of 2:57:59. “Maybe the next water station or finishing a marathon is your goal. Maybe it’s securing housing or finding a job, like those with Back on My Feet. Either way, you need the dedication and discipline to keep going.”
Gerchberg first became involved with BoMF in 2012, when he volunteered at one of its morning runs. He became a regular because he says the way it starts your day is perfect, and he enjoys giving back to the sport that has given him a renewed zeal for life.
He has declared 2016 as the year for “bigger and better things” both personally and professionally. In addition to running Leadville 100, his first 100-miler, in Colorado this August, Gerchberg wants more people from BoMF to have access to races and feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from reaching a goal.
“Running is such a beautiful thing,” Gerchberg says. “My passion has become my profession. Every day, I think, ‘I get to do this.’”