Shawn Livingston, Recovering Addict, Transforms Life Through Running

Shawn Livingston emphasizes how the power of running helped him get his life back

On Tuesday, October 30th, Shawn Livingston, a 10-year military veteran, up-and-coming endurance trail runner, and recovering addict who discovered his love for running through Back on My Feet Austin (BoMF), met with William Dyson (Austin Marathon Communications Manager) to conduct the latest installment of the Staying Vertical interview series.

They discuss life’s highs and lows, running’s impact, and what the future holds. Shawn just completed the Pinhoti 100 Miler in Sylacauga, AL, and has his sights set on the 2019 Ascension Seton Austin Marathon presented by Under Armour. BoMF, an Austin Gives Miles official charity, combats homelessness through the power of running, community support, and essential employment and housing resources. Read his interview below. If you see him on the trail or running with Austin Runners Club’s Ship of Fools chat him up!

William Dyson – When did you move to Austin? How long ago did you begin running with BoMF? What prompted you to join the group?

Shawn Livingston – I moved to Austin in 2016 for treatment. I’ve been running with BoMF for nearly 18 months now (began in June – 2017). I distinctly remember seeing a few guys return from running the 2017 Cap10K. I knew I wanted to get healthy, but I needed something to push me a little bit further. Seeing those guys return provided that spark for me.Shawn Livingston

WD – What was your life prior to BoMF?

SL – Growing up I was the oldest sibling. I did well early on in life, was a good role model for my siblings, and did well in sports. During my 10 years in the military, I got injured and became addicted to opiates. I was lost for a long time, eventually getting into legal trouble for drug possession. Everything came crashing down when I went to prison. It was there I realized I needed to stop being selfish. You get back what you put into this world, I truly believe that. I started thinking if God had a plan for me to peak early in life and then crash just so my siblings would know what not to do, then it’d be worth it. It was difficult to get past that thought process.

WD – What was your initial reaction to BoMF?

SL – BoMF was exactly what I needed at the exact right time. As a vet you miss getting up early, the camaraderie, going on long runs, the structured routine. Finding something similar was just what I needed. There were runners at the morning runs like me and I knew this would be the perfect stepping stone.

WD – What has running done for you as a human?

SL – After getting out of the military, I had problems with depression and anxiety. I couldn’t sleep and had nightmares regularly. Eventually, running became a part of my life and did to me what medicine could not. Through running I was able to break my dependence on the medication. Since I was a kid I’ve never been good at being still. Now, running has become my meditation. I’m able to break down, process, and work out life’s instances. You have some time to think when you go on a 20-mile run.

WD – What has running done to you as a person?

SL – About two years ago I weighed 260 lbs., smoked cigarettes, and was tremendously out of shape. I started running and eventually got my weight down to 195 lbs. The before-and-after pictures show two completely different people and showcase the difference between unhealthy and healthy. My attitude towards everything shifted, I have a more positive outlook on life, and possess a confidence booster I didn’t realize I had. Even with all that, it was hard to find a sense of accomplishment in life when I first started running. It wasn’t until I ran my first race and received a huge medal. They put it around my neck and I felt this undeniable sense of accomplishment. It made me want more. As someone who’s new to running, I wanted that next feeling. Before running I was addicted to feeling good. Running provides that good feeling now.

WD – Why do you continue to be involved with and support BoMF?

SL – There’s a saying “keep what you have by giving it away.” Running with BoMF has been so beneficial for me on many levels. When I needed someone, they were there. They supported me and helped me turn my life around. I’m dedicated to bringing that feeling and sensation to other people. If they’re in a similar situation, I want to show them what’s possible.

WD – Tell me how you went from morning runs with BoMF to ultra distances.

SL – I first started on trails because I was down to run anything. At first, running longer distances didn’t make sense to me. I was inspired and also blown away when those guys ran the Cap10K. Penny (BoMF volunteer, mentor, and fellow trail runner) saw something in me that I didn’t. She encouraged me to give longer distances on the trail a try. My second race was 2017 Capt’n Karl’s Muleshoe Bend 30K and continued with longer distances from there. Eventually, I gained more and more confidence. So much so that I’m running the Pinhoti 100 miler (my first) this Friday in Alabama (update: he finished in 27:43:35)

WD – You’ve becoShawn Livingstonme a decorated ultrarunner. What are your recent accomplishments?

SL – I’ve placed in the top 10 at several races and have thoroughly enjoyed pushing my body’s limits while testing longer distances.

Nov. 3rd – Pinhoti 100 Miler (27:43:35)

Sept. 28th – 4th place overall – J&J Race & Trail Running Reunion 50K (5:48:17)

Sept. 7th – 1st place overall – Paleface Marathon (4:39:15)

Aug. 4th – 8th place overall – Capt’n Karl’s Colorado Bend 30K (3:45:52)

June 2nd – 5th place overall – Texas Trail Running Festival Half Marathon (2:04:46)

May 5th – 5th place overall – Pandora’s Box of Rox Half Marathon (1:57:54)

WD – What keeps you running?

SL – Like I said earlier, it’s my medicine. Running is what I’ve gotten the most out of in life. Nothing makes me feel as good as running. You hear people talk about the direct connection between running and mental/physical health, but it doesn’t really click until you experience that feeling firsthand. It’s tough to find something like the “runner’s high” this rewarding.

WD – Tell me one or two running goals on your radar right now.

SL – Finish this weekend’s 100-miler (check) and qualify for the Boston Marathon at the 2019 Austin Marathon.

WD – Tell me one or two non-running goals on your radar right now.

SL – Get certified to become a personal trainer, continue progressing in my life, and reach as many people as possible.

WD – How are you training for the Austin Marathon? What’s your approach?

SL – Running trails has helped my road running. It’s strengthened muscles that don’t normally get work when road running. I run hills all the time. I plan to run the 2019 Bandera 100K in January. Barring an unforeseen injury, I’ll keep training because I want to qualify for Boston.

WD – BoMF is an Austin Gives Miles charity. Why should someone run/fundraise/spread awareness on their behalf?

SL – Runners know how beneficial running can be, they get it. What better way than to help others better themselves than by running?! It’s a very unique outlet to help those that need it most, simply by completing an action most of us take for granted on a daily basis.

Shawn LivingstonWD – How do you want to be remembered?

SL – I want to be remembered as somebody that was able to help others through their trials and tribulations. I want to use my experiences to show them right from wrong, but to also show them you can still accomplish anything you set your mind to, no matter where you are in life.

WD – You can travel back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self. What is that advice?

SL – No advice, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m not ashamed of anything in my past because it made me who I am now. I wouldn’t be the Shawn Livingston I am today without my past. We wouldn’t be at this table today and I wouldn’t have a message to share if it weren’t for my past.

WD – You have 30 seconds to pitch BoMF to someone who could benefit from the organization. What do you tell them?

SL – If you want to find an avenue to change your life and be around positive people who want to help, this program can provide that for you.

WD – What does family mean to you?

SL – Family means everything to me. My mindset changed completely when they cut me off. That’s when it sunk in. To have them back makes you realize at the end of the day family is all you have.

WD – Favorite non-running activity?

SL – Basketball.

Favorite place for long runs?

SL – Town Lake. To have so many people in the same place doing the same thing, from all walks of life, in shape, out of shape, all with similar goals, it’s energizing.

WD – Morning or evening workouts?

SL – Morning.

WD – You can choose one – dogs or cats?

SL – Dogs.

WD – What’s your favorite color?

SL – Carolina blue.

WD – Shawn, thank you for taking the time to visit with me and share your story. Meeting you and hearing your story firsthand is powerful. I appreciate you spending your time with me. Best of luck at Pinhoti, your first 100-miler! I just might sign up for my first trail race and hit you up for some advice. Keep pushing and taking it day-by-day. Good things are headed your way. We’ll see you at the Austin Marathon!

SL – You’re welcome. Thank’s for having me. I’m fortunate to have been given a second chance through running and I feel like I need to tell my story. Everyone knows someone with a problem. The hard part is reaching through to them and helping. I see running as an avenue to reach others. It can transform someone’s life if they have the right mindset. I know it transformed me! Thanks for the luck, hit me up when you register for that trail race. Looking forward to more trails and the Austin Marathon!

Staying Vertical with Kayleigh Williamson

On Saturday, November 18th, Kayleigh Williamson and her mother, Sandy, spent the morning training on Town Lake and then sat down with William Dyson for the next Staying Vertical interview. Kayleigh is a highly decorated athlete and became the first runner with Down syndrome to complete the Austin Half Marathon in 2017. During the Staying Vertical interview, they chat about what it felt like to cross the Austin Half Marathon finish line, the support of her friends and coaches, what’s it like to impact people around the world, and who would win if she and her mom competed in various events. Read her interview below and if you see her on the trail or running around town give her a huge high five!

Follow Kayleigh on Facebook and join Kayleigh’s Club today! You can see all her recognition and awards at the end of the interview.

Staying Vertical

Kayleigh’s Club at the Austin High Track.

William Dyson – You’re a runner. When did you begin running? Why?

Kayleigh Williamson – I started running in 2013 because of my health. I had to take medication for Grave’s disease. I’m in remission now, no more medication. But I still take vitamins.

WD – In addition to running, you’re a decorated basketball player and swimmer. Why is physical fitness important to you?

KW – Because it keeps me moving. I’ve been playing basketball since 2006. I’ve been swimming since 2008.

WD – Aside from running, you have to choose one: basketball or swimming. Go.

KW – Swimming (without hesitation).

WD – What are some positives you see from remaining so active? What are some obstacles?

KW – Because I’ve been swimming for a while, I’ve seen the progress athletes see when they get better from practice. I get better sleep at night. I don’t have to take my medicine anymore. I always remember the Special Olympics motto, “Let ME be brave. Let US be strong.”

When I started running more I had a leg injury. I went to RunLab and they fixed the pain.

Staying Vertical

Shane and Kayleigh.

WD – Earlier this year, you became the first individual with Down syndrome to complete the entire Austin Half Marathon course. What was going through your mind when you crossed the finish line?

KW – I remember crossing the finish line and felt so happy that I had to do my victory dance. I was so glad to have my friends at the finish line. My friend Shane from RunLab was there the whole time, holding my hand at the finish line. Shane would play Britney Spears, she’s my favorite because she’s from the same place as me, McComb, Miss.

WD – You’re a superstar. What was it like to get coverage on ESPNW, Runner’s World, TODAY, and People?

KW – I really do like it. I liked being on TV, talking about my mom. I’m proud of myself. I do races and events for my grandma. She has a bad memory, she can’t walk or run. She’s my motivating factor.

WD – Your story has been seen and your impact has been felt around the world. You’re positively impacting others with your accomplishments. How does that feel?

KW – It’s a good thing. I’m proud of myself. I’m showing everyone what I can do and that they can do it too.

WD – You plan to run the 2018 Austin Half Marathon. Do you feel like you have unfinished business?

KW – Yes!

WD – What are your race-day goals for February 18, 2018?

KW – I want to improve on my time. I want to run more of the course and walk less.

Gabriel, Kayleigh, and Natasha.

WD – How is training coming along?

KW – I ran four miles today (11/18) I’m doing good. I have my mom and my friend at 24-Hour Fitness, Gabriel, who helps me with the weights. Capital Metro takes me everywhere: 24-Hour Fitness, RunLab, McBeth Recreation Center.

WD – Take me through your Saturday training regimen.

KW – I get up early at 5:30 to run. I go to my Weight Watchers meeting with my best friends, Norma and Beth Ann. I roll at home with my pink Worm. I have a monthly dance at McBeth Rec Center on Saturdays.

WD – You can give advice to someone who’s beginning to go through a situation similar to yours. What is that advice?

KW – Come run/walk the Austin Half Marathon with me!

WD – You’re training, you’re exhausted, you want to quit. What keeps you going?

KW – I keep going because I want to beat my mom.

WD – How do your RunLab coaches inspire you?

KW – I inspire them! Dr. Davis started Kayleigh’s Club. Natasha is now the coach of Kayleigh’s Club. She’s a sweet girl, she’s with me every step of the way.

WD – You have a big supporter and training partner in your mom, Sandy. How does that impact you?

KW – My mom challenges me, I love her. I call her Coach Mommy. She’s my sweetheart. On Mother’s Day, I tell her she’s the best mom in the whole world. She plays Bohemian Rhapsody for me.

Staying Veritcal

Sandy and Kayleigh.

WD – You and your mom compete in the following events. Tell me who wins:

KW – 100m dash Me.

One mile – My mom.

Basketball game, first to 10 points – Me, I’ve been playing basketball for a while.

100m freestyle – Me.

WD – Favorite place to swim and run in Austin?

KW – swim – 24-Hour Fitness – William Cannon; run – Town Lake

WD – Favorite non-training activity?

KW – Dancing at McBeth Rec Center.

WD – What do you do for fun?

KW – Dance in the car with my mom, I’m the better dancer. We listen to Shania Twain, Man I Feel like a Woman, and Aretha Franklin, You Make Me Feel like a Natural Woman.

WD – Favorite Austin restaurant?

KW – West Gate Central Market, WestGate and Mr. Natural’s.

WD – Morning or evening workouts?

KW – Both.

WD – Friends or family come to visit. What’s the first Austin thing y’all do?

Staying Vertical

Kayleigh: half marathoners.

KW – Town Lake, I want to show them where I run.

WD – What’s your favorite holiday?

KW – Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

WD – You can choose one – dogs or cats?

KW – Both, we have four dogs and a cat. Their names are MegPie, Shadow, Nara, Maggie Mae, and Hercules (cat).

WD – What’s your favorite color?

KW – Red and black, those are my swim team colors.

WD – Kayleigh, thank you for taking the time to visit our office and lend your time for this interview. I had a blast getting to learn more about you, your motivations, and the amazing things you’ve done. We wish you all the best and we’ll see you on the trail and then at the start line on February 18th. Keep training and working hard and you’ll accomplish all your goals. Thanks for bringing your mom!

KW – You’re welcome. Thank you for interviewing me. I tried to keep my mom from talking too much. I will keep working hard because I want to beat my half marathon time and my mom. I also want to have more friends run with me. You can come to one of the workouts with Kayleigh’s Club. See you soon!

Recognition – At State (this last October), Kayleigh medaled in the 100m freestyle, the 50m backstroke, and the 25m breaststroke.  She has more than 15 medals at Area and State in swimming and more than 10 in basketball in Area and State.  She just completed her second 10-mile race (Run for the Water) in addition to 14 5K races, two 10K races, and two 8K races. She has Special Olympic medals in tennis, cycling, bowling, and track. The longest distance she has swum is 1600m.  

Kayleigh was the first individual with Down syndrome to train in International Krav Maga. Krav is Israeli self-defense. She trained for three years. International Krav has to be trained under a Master Krav Instructor. There are only two Masters in the US, one being in Texas.

Williamson will be the Ambassador for the Austin Rockin’ Resolution 10-Miler on 12/31.

Staying Vertical with Ross Moody

On Tuesday, April 11th, William Dyson, of High Five Events, hopped on a phone call with Ross Moody, an Austinite, an athlete, CEO and Chairman of the Board of National Western Life Group, and a Trustee of the Moody Foundation. They talked about how the goals of Austin Gives Miles and the Moody Foundation align and also about growing up in small-town Galveston.

You can see his accomplishments at the end!

William Dyson – The Austin Marathon is appreciative that Austin Gives Miles was selected as a Moody Foundation grant recipient for the second year in a row. How does the Austin Gives Miles program align with the Moody Foundation’s philanthropic principles?

Ross Moody – Austin Gives Miles aligns quite well with the Moody Foundation’s philanthropic principles in that AGM benefits present and future generations of Texans in numerous, varying ways, by providing financial assistance to organizations whose work supports education, social services, children’s needs, and community development in Central Texas. I picked up running late in life, but absolutely love it.

WD – Normally grants are awarded to a sole entity. How does it feel knowing the Moody Foundation is positively affecting 26 Central Texas nonprofit organizations, all with different missions, through the Austin Gives Miles program?

RM – It’s truly tremendous knowing that we’re positively impacting 26 Central Texas nonprofit organizations with varying mission statements. As a runner and volunteer, I’ve been involved with the Austin Marathon since the late-90s. I became aware of Austin Gives Miles when it was first created and thought it was a phenomenal way to support all 26 organizations at once. Awarding individual grants can be a time-consuming process. By working with Austin Community Foundations we’re able to bypass the difficulty that would be affecting each organization separately. It’s a win-win-win situation for Austin Gives Miles, the Moody Foundation, and all the communities impacted by the work of the AGM charities. Giving away money is the easy thing to do; the difficult part is for the nonprofit organization to use the money to fulfill its specific mission.

WD – Going back to when the Moodys first arrived in Texas, why do you think the emphasis of community was, and still is, so important?

RM – My family moved to Texas in the mid-to-late 1800s. They settled in Galveston, which was a thriving community at that time. It was one of the most energetic cities west of the Mississippi and the second largest point of entry in the country outside of Ellis Island. My family was fortunate enough to participate in the boom. My great-grandfather had many interests, including banking, insurance, cotton brokerage, and printing. He knew his businesses wouldn’t survive without the surrounding community. My great-grandparents treated people the way they wanted to be treated. They were hard workers, but also knew at the same time they wouldn’t be in the position they were in without the community. The Moody Foundation was created by my great-grandfather’s estate. Through their will, my great-grandparent’s gave the lion’s share of their fortune back to the community through the Foundation. They wanted to support the community that supported them, focusing strictly on Galveston and the State of Texas.

WD – If your ancestors could see the Moody Foundation in its current state, what do you think their reaction would be?

Moody Foundation stats.

RM – I believe they’d be astounded at the growth and the amount of giving by the Foundation. Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded $1.3 billion through more than 3700 grants. Our giving has increased during the past 10-15 years and we award $60-70 million annually. We continue to do what my great-grandparent’s set out to accomplish, that is, to positively impact the State of Texas and its citizens.

WD – You’re a self-proclaimed small-town kid from Galveston who moved to Austin to attend The University of Texas. What attracted you to Austin and UT?

RM – When I was in high school, I was given three college applications when I was a senior. Back then, applications were one page long. The applications were to the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and the local college in Galveston. My brother went to UT so I followed him. In the early 80s Austin was a fantastic city. Even though Austin was 4-5 times the size of Galveston, it still had that small town feel. It felt like I went from one small town to another; it was my home away from home.

WD – You’re an 11-time finisher of the Austin Marathon. What drew you to run in this event?

RM – This is Austin’s signature running event. It’s in our back yard. It’s always been a well-organized event and one that’s representative of the City of Austin. When I first started running I trained by myself, running multiple loops around Town Lake. I wasn’t aware of the local groups or clubs. I didn’t know about the various routes around town. But then I joined a running group. I met people and trained with those people. I dove further and further into the Austin running community. We pushed each other, my times dropped. Next thing I know I’ve finished the Austin Marathon 11 times, being a pacer for at least half of those races.

WD – Are you still running?

RM – Not at the moment. I have a recurring Achilles issue and had surgery to remove a bone spur. I’ll get back into running, but I need to ensure my Achilles won’t act up again. I love running because it removes barriers and strips you down to your purest form. The only thing that’ll get you across the finish line is hard work and determination.

WD – What have you learned during marathon training or in running the marathon itself that you applied to your professional life?

RM – Two things: discipline and teamwork. You must be disciplined to succeed. You must be disciplined in your training in preparation for your race. You must be disciplined at work in order to be your best self and help the company succeed. Teamwork is probably the most important; it’s more difficult to do tasks alone. It’s better to work together. Accountability is a major factor in success, whether you’re getting up at 5 a.m. to meet your run group or you’re tasked with a specific responsibility and your company is relying on you.

WD – What’s the probability that you’ll train for and run the 2018 Austin Marathon?

RM – HA! Right now it’s at 0%. When I do another marathon it’ll be in Austin. There’s just too much going on in my life right now. I don’t feel like I can dedicate enough time to properly train. My work/life balance is at a good spot right now, training would throw everything off balance.

WD – If you could give one piece of advice when it comes to running what would it be?

RM – Find the pace that works for you. So many folks can’t find their pace. They hit it too hard early on and then blow up later in the race. As a pacer, we had a shirt that said, “It’s the pace, not the race.” I like that expression. Folks have asked me for advice and I always say don’t try to kill it early, run at a comfortable pace, and believe that you can finish. Push it at the end if you feel good.

WD – Considering all of your professional and philanthropic endeavours, what do you do to find time for yourself and your family?

RM – It’s easier now that my kids are grown. My daughter lives in NYC and my son is at UT. I think what’s most important is to find a balance in your life that works best for you. You can’t ignore your personal life to the detriment of your professional life and vice versa. I love my “Ross time.” When my kids were younger I still had to get my runs in. It’s all about planning and discipline. If needed, I lined up a babysitter to watch the kids while I was on a run. Don’t forget about your friends and family. That’s what makes me equally balanced at the end of the day.

WD – What will Ross Moody do and where will he be in five years?

RM – I’d like to find more balance professionally. My family time and personal time are taken care of. I want to make sure that certain responsibilities are well-managed and in capable hands. I’d like to back off some from the for-profit side of things and focus more on nonprofit tasks. In order to back off the day-to-day responsibilities I’ll need to hire the right people and continue to form strategic partnerships.

Town Lake sunrise.

WD – Top three life moments:

RM – 1) Hands down the birth of my kids. Being a father is a fantastic experience. I love my kids. They’re smart and funny. We have a great relationship and I’m proud of what they’ve become and am excited about what they will do in the future. 2) Various athletic accomplishments: running the Scottsdale Marathon in less than three hours, finishing Ironman three times, completing the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim. 3) Realizing that I’ve stepped into my father’s footsteps. I’ve been challenged to meet and exceed his expectations, to continue to be inclusive of my family as my dad was with all of us. I’ve been fortunate to have the experiences I’ve had throughout my life and I just want to make my father proud.

WD – Favorite place to run in Austin?

RM – Town Lake. It’s the first place I ran in Austin. I continue to go down there to this day. I’ve spent years on the trail and it has become my go-to place.

WD – Favorite non-running activity?

RM – Visiting my ranch in the Hill Country.

WD – Favorite Austin restaurant?

Josephine House.

RM – Josephine House.

WD – Friends or family come to Austin for a visit. Where’s the first place you take them?

RM – I feel like people need to view Austin as whole and not in specific places. I like to give people the Austin experience: spend time at Town Lake, visit the Warehouse District, visit the stores on South Congress, boat on Lake Travis, etc. There are so many great things about this city that if you focus someone’s visit on one place then they won’t get the full feel of Austin.

WD – Mr. Moody, thank you for your time today and for your and the Moody Foundation’s continued support of the Austin Marathon’s Austin Gives Miles program. The impact the grant makes is truly widespread and affects tens of thousands within Central Texas. When you get back to running you’ve got an open invitation to join the High Five Events crew for all of our excursions! Wishing a speedy recovery.

RM – You’re welcome, William. Thanks for contacting me with this interview opportunity. Highlighting the Moody Foundation’s efforts throughout Texas truly showcases the vision my great-grandparents had when they started the Foundation and the love they had for their community. Supporting Austin Gives Miles is a direct reflection of what we do as a Foundation – “to benefit, in perpetuity, present and future generations of Texans.”

Staying Vertical is an interview session with various individuals within the endurance community hosted by William Dyson, High Five Events Communications Manager. Staying Vertical will showcase the perspective of runners, triathletes, sponsors, partners, event producers, and volunteers to understand what makes them tick. We will highlight their involvement and give the endurance community an inside look at the individuals that are just like you and me.

Positions and Recognitions –
CEO and Chairman of the Board of National Western Life Group
The Moody Foundation Trustee
UT Austin’s Moody College of Communication National Leadership Board Member
11x Austin Marathon finisher
1999 – 3:15:22
2000 – 3:08:10
2001 – 3:16:19
2003 – 3:13:46
2004 – 3:19:49 (3:20 pacer)
2005 – 3:19:58 (3:20 pacer)
2007 – 3:29:07 (3:30 pacer)
2008 – 3:29:42 (3:30 pacer)
2009 – 3:29:39 (3:30 pacer)
2010 – 3:30:09 (3:30 pacer)
2011 – 3:28:36 (3:30 pacer)

Completed three Ironman competitions and numerous other marathons, including multiple Boston Marathons and one in Antarctica.

*Feature photo from Moody College of Communication – The University of Texas at Austin.