MADISON, Wis. - Madison is playing host to a half-Ironman Triathlon on Sunday, welcoming some of the world’s best athletes. One of those racers is carrying an important message with him that he hopes will change lives.
Sitting around a table playing cards might not be what you imagine the buildup to a big race looks like, but Ohio native Todd Crandell knows it’s all about balance.
"Today is a rest day, because I'll be doing a lot tomorrow,” Crandell said. "Balance is a key factor in getting to the start line, and a happy, healthy productive state of mind, that's essential."
That goes for both racing and recovery.
"Every step that I take physically, I'm improving myself emotionally, spiritually, socially and intellectually,” Crandell said. "I never thought I would be alive, let alone being sober."
Crandell lost his mom, who had battled addiction, to suicide when he was 3 years old.
"Emotionally, I was cracked,” he said.
As a teenager, Crandell started down that path himself.
"I ended up living in my car, smoking crack, heroin, cocaine, mescaline, every drug that was out there,” he said.
That was until a third DUI in 1993 turned him around.
"I believe it was a gift from God. I say it was a gift from my dead mom,” he said. “I had an awakening. I'm done."
Now 26 years sober, Crandell walks (and runs, swims and bikes) a different road, completing more Ironman and half-Ironman triathlons than he can keep track of.
"I am doing my 47th Ironman 70.3 here in Madison,” he said.
For him, it's not a solitary journey.
"This is not about me,” Crandell said. “I just know I'm the messenger of a very powerful message, and I love showcasing what that message has done for other people."
He's now a licensed clinical counselor and the founder of Racing for Recovery, spreading the word to those with addiction that sobriety is possible with a healthy, holistic lifestyle.
A group of seven in recovery, including Bobby Alvarez, is following Crandell on his Ironman journey.
"I didn't want to live, but I didn't want to die,” Alvarez said. “I was just kind of existing."
Now sober, Alvarez can see the parallels between exercising and recovery.
"It's like, man, this is hard. Like, it would be easier if I gave up, but no, keep going,” he said. “And there's no finish line."
"It's just like Ironman. When you're struggling ... it's only temporary,” Crandell said. "The reward of finishing the race is totally applicable to attaining sobriety, because life is good."
Alvarez’s daughter keeps him on track, too.
"She's my life,” he said. “At night, I close my eyes and just see her beautiful smile, and that's one of the biggest motivations for me."
More important than Crandell’s Ironman training are stories like Alvarez’s to push him forward.
“You can go from being a hopeless, suicidal, desperate person addicted to drugs to living a life you never thought possible,” Crandell said.
Although it’s based in Ohio, Racing for Recovery offers two free livestreamed support meetings a week online for those with addictions and their loved ones. Anyone is welcome to participate.
You can learn more at its website.
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