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What makes Cedric Givens run backward?
It’s 9:30 a.m., and Cedric Givens is stretching in the front hall of his Northeast home before he runs. On the wall in front of him are running awards, numbered bibs from races that he’s been in, and a photo of himself in action, sporting Space Age sunglasses, large silver headphones, a white sleeveless T-shirt, and blue Lycra shorts.
In most respects, the 48-year-old Givens is a thoroughly ordinary family man. He works afternoons and evenings at Dulles Airport, operating the Jetsons-esque shuttles that ferry passengers from terminal to terminal. He spent 21 years driving buses for Metro. He’s been married for 22 years and has six kids. His immaculate town house gleams with polished crystal, houseplants, and awards and diplomas earned by his kids.
What’s so unusual about Givens is the manner in which he runs the 6-mile loop from his home to the White House and back again. He runs it backward, in the middle of traffic, hollering at pedestrians as he goes. Givens completes this run every other day, in less than an hour. It’s helped to sculpt an impressive physique that makes Givens appear larger than his 5-foot-9-inch frame.
Givens’ backward run starts out on Northeast side streets with little traffic. “‘Morning,” he says to an elderly woman who’s sitting out on her porch on I Street NE.
“‘Morning,” she replies.
When Givens turns from 3rd Street NE onto H Street, the real show begins. He ascends the H Street bridge behind Union Station, and traffic enfolds him.
When a sanitation truck passes, Givens yells, “D.C. Department of Natural Resources!” His greeting is an enthusiastic boom, and the driver beeps his horn.
Givens passes a bored parking attendant who’s gazing out of his tiny parking-lot kiosk. “Amigooo!” Givens hollers. The parking attendant smiles and waves.
His banter is an improvised pep rally of sorts. “Hey, cabbie!” he yells at taxi drivers, who usually toot and wave. “Slow the bus down, man!” he yells at bus drivers, many of whom he knows from his Metrobus days.
When he passes a Pepsi truck, Givens booms: “Pep-siii! Uh-huh! Uh-huh!” A Verizon truck prompts: “Ver-III-zonnn! Where’s my phone, man? Where’s my phone?”
“Whassup?” replies the driver.
At 13th and H Streets NW, Givens dances nimbly in the heavy traffic. He bops to his headphones as cars maneuver around him. Givens says he has never bumped into anything in his 15 years of running backwards and has fallen only twice.
“I popped right back up,” Givens says with a grin. He explains, “There is no secret [to running backwards]. It’s just doing something naturally. It’s natural to me. It seems I can run just as far backwards as forwards and still stay focused.”
When Givens reaches Lafayette Park and the White House, it’s prime time. He does silly, loping jumping jacks. He leapfrogs over cement barriers. The Commodores’ tune “The Night Shift” comes on his headphones, and he sings along, working the crowd. He pretends to dive headfirst onto police cars, stopping just before he hits them.
Givens says he runs backward “because it’s a change from going forwards.” But there’s some history to it, as well. A former star high school athlete, Givens won a football scholarship to community college in Baltimore, where he played defensive back. “A good defensive back has to backpedal really fast,” he explains. “You know, stopping on a dime and breaking to the ball. So [running backward] is easier to me.”
There’s the attention factor, too. “Running forwards, I’m going too fast,” he says. “It’s too serious. This way, I can talk to people.”
His wife, Debra Givens, is resigned about her otherwise normal husband’s antics. “It’s his outlet,” she says, “and it makes him feel good.”
Givens heads home, backward, in the sunny morning, laughing and grinning. A parking attendant at the Grand Hyatt hotel does a little backward dance for him, and Givens smiles as he flashes by.
“You’re looking good, man!” says Givens. “You’re looking good!” CP