Running with Raven: The Amazing Story of One Man, His Passion, and the Community He Inspired

Running with Raven: The Amazing Story of One Man, His Passion, and the Community He Inspired

by Laura Lee Huttenbach


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In 1975, Robert “Raven” Kraft made a New Year’s Resolution to run eight miles on Miami’s South Beach each evening. Over 125,000 miles and seven hurricanes later, he has not missed one sunset—and he has changed the lives of thousands who have run with him.
From all fifty states and over 85 countries, across all age groups and backgrounds, people come to run with Raven. In the process they find friendship, inspiration—and a nickname.
Among them is author Laura Lee “White Lightning” Huttenbach, who has logged over a thousand miles of Raven Runs. Here she explores the stories of dozens of others about why they started running with Raven—and why they keep coming back.
Raven is a legend of the running world, and his story is an invaluable reminder that the journey means little without the connections forged along the way.
“Raven left an indelible impression upon me, as he has countless others. Raven, long may you run.”
 --Dean Karnazes, New York Times bestselling author of Ultramarathon Man
“An inspiring tale of unbreakable discipline and one-of-a-kind endurance.”
–Gerald Posner, New York Times bestselling author of Miami Babylon
“Raven’s tale of perseverance, understanding, and courage will inspire anyone.”- Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806538433
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 04/24/2018
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 796,336
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Laura Lee Huttenbach, a graduate of the University of Virginia, was a high school four-sport star, named Female Athlete of the Year for the state of Georgia. The Boy is Gone, the life story of a Kenyan independence leader whom she met while backpacking in Africa, was her first book.

Allyson Ryan is a native New Yorker whose diverse talents have led to a career in voice-over, theater, TV, commercials, and films. She won an AudioFile Earphones Award for her recording of On the Divinity of Second Chances by Kaya McLaren. She is also a 2017 Society of Voice Arts and Sciences Voice Arts Award nominee.

Read an Excerpt

Running With Raven

The Amazing Story of One Man, His Passion, and the Community He Inspired

By Laura Lee Huttenbach


Copyright © 2017 Laura Lee Patterson Huttenbach
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8065-3844-0



Looking around at the fortress of clutter that wreathes his private life, it's hard to connect this Raven with the spirited raconteur who, every day, assembles a diverse bunch of individuals in the name of community and exercise. His followers would be surprised to discover that, as a boy, their leader was painfully shy. "If I had to describe my childhood in one word, it would be 'lonely,'" says Raven.

To judge if a person has risen or fallen, we must know from where he came.

Raven was born Robert A. Kraft on October 17, 1950, in Richmond, Virginia, to Mary and Walter Kraft. When he was 4, his parents divorced, and his father went to California, where he remarried seven times.

The Silver Meteor train delivered Robert, Mary, and her mother to Miami Beach in 1955, right before he started kindergarten at South Beach Elementary. Mary always told him, "Children should be seen and not heard," and Robert listened. He had little interaction with kids his age. "We used to call it God's Waiting Room," Raven says. "Old people would just be out on the porch, waiting to die. In the summer, you could roll a bowling ball down Ocean Drive and not hit one person."

He hated school. When he was made to repeat first grade, his teacher wrote on his report card: Robert has trouble socializing. When he's spoken to, he just nods. His best friends were on baseball cards that he kept in his front pockets. He loved the Dodgers. Players taught him lessons in geography, statistics, math, history, and reading. "I'd memorize everything on the card. I'd look up where they were from. That was my education."

He still remembers these statistics. Once, on a run with me, Sleazebuster, and a guy called Y2K, Raven recited every single World Series — where it was played, who played, and other fun facts — since 1960. Then Sleazebuster said, "Can I give you my test? I'm trying to think of the roster, and I'm missing some names in the outfield. I got Pee Wee Reese, Junior Gilliam, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, Duke Snider — who am I forgetting?"

Asking for the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers roster from Raven was like inquiring what he ate for dinner. "Jackie Robinson moved to third base," began Raven. "You had the platoon in the outfield — Sandy Amoros or Shotgun Shuba. Catcher was Roy Campanella. Ace pitchers were Johnny Podres, Carl Erskine, and Don Newcombe," said Raven. "But Junior Gilliam was my favorite."

Raven's favorite school days fell on Jewish high holidays, when pretty much all of his classmates and his teacher were at synagogue. "It was great," he recalls. "We basically had a free day with a sub. We never got homework." Before 1959, he knew only two Cubans at school, brothers named Ernie and Pompy Santella. So this is why, when I asked Raven how Cuban immigration affected Miami Beach, he answered, "Well it made the Jewish holidays a lot less fun."

After Castro and the Revolution, Robert's classes started filling up with exiliados, many of whom did not observe the Jewish holy days. Teachers assigned homework on Rosh Ha-shana, and Robert was upset.

* * *

A single mom, Mary got a job working at a candy store, where Robert would sit at the counter after school sipping a Yoo-hoo while she rang people up at the cash register. When he got bored, he wandered outside to a bus stop in front of Dillards Hotel. On a pad of paper, Robert kept track of cars that passed. There was something soothing about making lists. Chevys, Fords, and Plymouths got the most tick marks, while Nash Ambassadors, Hudson Hornets, a Packard, or a Henry J by Kaiser was slightly more exciting. He didn't care about Mercedes or VW Bugs; only American cars counted. He sketched windows and taillights and became obsessed with fins. "Back then you could tell right away what kind of car it was," says Raven wistfully. "Now they all look the same."

When Mary started working the graveyard shift at Al's Restaurant, a twenty-four-hour luncheonette and auto tag agency, life got harder. His grandmother had moved to her own apartment, and Robert, age 8, started spending his nights alone. In the morning, he lay awake frozen in bed, hugging his pillow like a friend, until he heard his mother's high heels clicking up the wooden steps to their apartment. "I'd breathe and think, Phew, thank God. I'm going to get fed, I can live another day," says Raven. "I was terrified of being an orphan."

He calls himself a latchkey kid and often says, "If there's one thing my mother taught me, it's to always lock the door." (He still compulsively checks locks.) They were poor, too, living in the South Shore neighborhood — the southernmost point of the island — home to the housing projects, the city dump, the bus terminal, Mendelson's Kosher Meat Market, the MacArthur Milk Factory, and the Royal Palm Ice Company. Today it's known as South Pointe or SoFi — South of Fifth — with high-rise condos like the Portofino that sell for millions.

Robert was excited when his mom started dating an older man with a car, but the happiness wore off quickly when "the Eagle" returned to his ways of drinking, gambling, and womanizing. After learning the good-for-nothing was going to become his stepfather, Robert, age 14, put on a black shirt. "I looked in the mirror and said, 'That's me. Other people can wear colors, but I'm only wearing black.'"

Mary married the Eagle on October 17, 1965 — Robert's 15th birthday. There was no honeymoon. Instead, the Eagle moved in to their one-bedroom at 745 Euclid, the Krafts' fifth home in a decade. (Mary and Robert had taken it as an omen to leave their previous apartment when, as they were listening to the Animals' "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," their roof caved in during a hurricane.)

On Thanksgiving, the Eagle took Mary out to dinner, and Robert ate a Lum's hotdog by himself. On Christmas, the Eagle invited his racetrack buddies over to play poker. Robert, as usual, was listening to FUN 790 AM on his transistor radio in the corner. The radio wasn't loud when the Eagle grunted, "Hey, turn that down." Robert didn't move.

Boozed up on Kentucky bourbon, the Eagle's friends prodded him. "Are you going to let your stepson treat you like that?" The Eagle shoved his chair away from the table and went after Robert with fists swinging. One punch to the chin took Robert by surprise before he fought back. "I was bigger than him by then," notes Raven. The Eagle's friends realized the same thing as they pounced on Robert, dragging him to the bedroom. They closed the door and held it shut.

Mary was crying. "Please let him out," she said. "He's going to break down the door."

But Robert sat down to catch his breath. With his back against the wall, he lowered his head between his knees and silently made a promise: If the Eagle ever lays another hand on me or my mom again, I'll kill him.

* * *

He was losing his family, and the world didn't care. His classmates were running down hallways singing gibberish like "Wooly Bully." That didn't speak to Robert. How could it speak to anyone? The Beatles were no better. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" — it was bubblegum music, songs that stuck in your head but had no substance. "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah?" says Raven dismissively. "I mean, come on. Girls are going crazy over this stupid stuff?" The boys were acting just as foolish, cutting bangs and doing fake British accents to sound like Paul McCartney and John Lennon. The whole thing pissed Raven off. It was another reminder that he was different, an outcast who didn't like the Beatles, because How could someone not like the Beatles?

One song changed his life, and it lasted six minutes. When Bob Dylan asked, "How does it feel," Robert knew. "Like a Rolling Stone" told the story about an outcast who lost love because the girl didn't think he was good enough, then her tables turned. "I always thought I wasn't good enough for anyone," says Raven. "That song spoke to me. Loud." When I asked Raven what exactly it was about the song that spoke to him, he looked at me like I was covered in purple spots. "I mean, have you heard it?" he asked.

Someone — not just someone but Bob Dylan — felt the same way he did. And a nation was buying Dylan's single and singing his story, connecting the down and out. There were a lot more outcasts in the world than Robert knew in junior high. Just by asking how does it feel, the song, he hoped, encouraged empathy. "Dylan wasn't just I loved her and lost her," says Raven. "It was about hard living. It had a message. It made you think."

"Like a Rolling Stone" reassured him in a misery-loves-company way, but it also gave Robert a purpose: If Dylan's message was resonating with people, maybe his own experience was worth something. If he could get paid for it, even better, but the important thing was to pick up the pen. "I didn't think my life was going to get any better," says Raven. "But if I could say something people related to and give them hope that they're not alone in this tough world, I wanted to try. It's always good to know you're not alone."

In the last week of ninth grade, a popular kid — a yearbook editor — stopped Robert in the hallway. "You want to know what you got for our class superlative?" He had gotten a superlative? "Yup," the boy continued, "we voted, and you got Most Likely to Commit a Murder." Robert looked down and walked away.

"I've had that in my head my whole life," says Raven.

In the junior high auditorium at the end-of-the-year ceremony, Robert was waiting for the principal to call his name for Perfect Attendance, the only award he ever strived for. But Robert Kraft wasn't called, because, according to school records, he'd missed more than half a day. (Regarding that day, Raven says he had gone to the hospital after a rusty fishhook on the pier gave him blood poisoning. But he swears he was back at school before one.) "I was so upset. I wanted that award, that recognition, so bad," says Raven. "Encouragement is important to a kid, and nobody encouraged me."

That fall, he started tenth grade at Beach High, a bigger school than Ida M. Fisher Junior High, and a twenty-block walk from his grandmother's apartment, where he moved to escape the Eagle. As classmates were dropped off in Cadillacs, Robert arrived in a black Ban-Lon shirt soaked in sweat. Upperclassmen bullied him. "They'd shout, 'You're Paint It Black,' from the Rolling Stones," says Raven.

Shortly after his 16th birthday in gym class, Robert was playing football on a wet field. The quarterback, who was a senior, told him to go long and deliberately sent him to a puddle. As Robert reached up to catch the pass, his feet slipped, and he landed in the mud. Everyone folded over in laughter, and Robert looked to the teacher for help, but he did nothing. "I thought, That ain't right," says Raven.

The next day he dropped out.


Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line

In May 2013, Raven and I went for a bike ride in South Beach. We left from his apartment on Ocean Drive and 3rd Street, with me on a Deco Bike — a Miami Beach rental — and Raven on his black Schwinn Beach Cruiser. As usual, his chest hair poured out of his unbuttoned black Levi's jacket, which covered his shoelace belt. I was wearing jean cutoffs, a tank top, and flip-flops, with my blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. "I want to show you exactly where things happened," he had told me during our interviews.

Before we took a pedal from his driveway, Raven announced, "You know those two killers from In Cold Blood? They stayed there." He pointed across the street, to 335 Ocean Drive, which are low-rise condos. "It used to be called the Somerset Hotel. My mom and I would go next door to pay our rent, so we must've passed by when the killers were there." Raven was 9 years old during the Christmas of 1959 when Richard Hickock and Perry Smith hid out in Miami Beach. A few days after their South Beach vacation the two were arrested in Las Vegas, and later sentenced to death by hanging for murdering a family of four in Kansas.

"And that building next to it, 329 Ocean," Raven continued, "that's where George P. Lenart took the famous cowboy actor Lash LaRue to Alcoholics Anonymous." George P. Lenart was an old Beach character who looked like Ernest Hemingway with a bushy white beard and a notebook in hand. George swore he wrote better than Hemingway, but nobody had discovered him. Raven actually kept some of George's writings, which went like this:

7:23 — Sitting at McDonald's, oh I gotta pee.

7:27 — The eggs are no good, I'm going to return them.

Around George's waist, a rope held up his pants and functioned as a beer holster. Homeless, George would often get arrested for public drunkenness. Upon his release, he penned protest letters to the courts. "Dear Screwed-Up, Incompetent Judge Jones," began one. Raven had told me the story about George and Lash LaRue, but I'd forgotten where they met.

"They met at the Playhouse Bar, and George invited him to the AA meeting," answered Raven. "You ready, White Lightning? Let's get started."

As Lamborghinis and Teslas cruised by and young couples in bikinis passed on the sidewalk, heads turned to look at us. "They're trying to figure out how an old guy like me is with a pretty young woman like you," observed Raven. "They probably think I have a lot of money or something." The plastic grocery bag covering his ripped bicycle seat crinkled in the wind, and the tire wobbled from side to side as he gripped the rusty handlebars and pushed the bike across the street.

For Raven, every avenue is a stroll down memory lane. Every block triggers a scene. Familiar faces are everywhere. The past surrounds him. As we were making our way south, a man stopped us on the bike. "How you doing, Raven?" he said. "When are you running today?" The man, Jesse, was a boat captain who grew up in Miami Beach in the 1970s. He looked at me.

"This is White Lightning," said Raven. "She's writing my bio."

"Oh, that's great," he said. "Boy this place has really changed. I would've never dreamed it could turn into what it is today. Back then it was just like a small surfing community, where everyone knew each other. Then, it went from a retirement community to a crime zone overnight."

"Oh, in the eighties, it was bad," said Raven. "No way you would've lived here, White Lightning. It was too dangerous."

We continued, with Raven narrating the tour along the way. "This is where the old band shell used to be. My grandmother came here for the old people dances. They'd play music from the old country, like the waltz." Now, electronic music thumped out of the speakers above our heads. If you want to get a drink at Nikki Beach Club, a vodka soda costs about twenty bucks.

Raven pointed toward the water. "That was the old pier where I'd write songs and I met Bulldog and Killer. Over there was the dog track." We pedaled toward Government Cut. "Fisher Island didn't exist. That was all trees. Even here, by the rocks, this area was lined with Australian Pines. I used to take girls here on dates. It was really romantic."

His bike slowed. "Uh-oh," he said, "here's an old-timer." He nodded toward a barefoot man wearing khaki cargo pants, an orange shirt, and reflector glasses, standing on a bench. Short with a big goofy grin, the man looked like the actor Martin Short. Raven introduced us. "White Lightning, meet Dave the Wave. Dave used to hang out with Goliath."

Goliath was another beach character, a bodybuilder from Coney Island who once appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show with his hand-balancing partner, David. At sunset, Goliath and his girlfriend, Suzanne, would strut down the beach wearing long purple robes. When they got to the rocks at the end, they dropped the robes. Their naked bodies absorbed the final rays of sun. Dave the Wave joined them.

"Yeah," said Dave the Wave. "We'd just sit on the rocks and smoke herb and talk to people about Jesus, totally naked. We'd say Jesus died for our sins so we could be free and guilt doesn't exist." Dave the Wave had just come from dropping his mom off at work. "She's eighty-nine," he said, "and still working. We got the blessings of Abraham — health, wealth, and happiness."

They shuffled through a few other characters like Holy Joe, who preached and handed out Bibles every Sunday on South Beach. "Nothing would stop Holy Joe. People would be throwing dead fish at him, or seaweed, but he'd just keep going. I saw some kids toss him in the ocean once. He'd come right out, reading from the Gospel saying I forgive you." Dave looked at me. "You know the Gospel?"

"Yes," I said.

"It's the Good News," he said. Dave took over Holy Joe's mission for a few moments before he told me about the times when enormous bales of marijuana would float ashore in Miami Beach. "I knew this one guy who was trying to become a lifeguard, and he used to drive an '88 Oldsmobile. A week later, I see him driving a real nice Chevy Conversion van. I knew there had to be a story there." His friend had found five bales of marijuana and sold it for $30,000. He took the money to the Chevy dealership and bought the van with cash.


Excerpted from Running With Raven by Laura Lee Huttenbach. Copyright © 2017 Laura Lee Patterson Huttenbach. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Raven's Community, a Selection of Characters xi

Preface: What Is It About Raven ? xiii

I Permanence 1

1 Paint It Black 3

2 Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line 9

II Authenticity 21

3 The World's Version of Somebody 23

III Grit 37

5 Hooked 39

6 Run Free 49

7 Castro Is Still Laughing 57

IV Fitness 73

8 Not a Race 75

9 Better Than Alcohol 86

V Belonging 95

10 Gentle Soul 97

11 Andrew 106

VI Accountability 115

12 Spinal Stenosis 117

13 You're the Miracle 123

14 The Big Wave 133

15 Off Their Butts 142

VII Camaraderie 147

16 True Story Lory 149

17 Chuck Norris and Jesus Christ 156

VIII Legend 169

18 Equal in Running Clothes 171

19 Weaver 188

Afterword 199

Appendix: Raven Runners List 211

Acknowledgments 235

Reading Group Guide 239

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