For those struggling with addiction, exercise offers hope for a sober future.

Anyone affected by substance abuse knows that knowledge of the problem alone can’t help beat the disease.

For Todd Crandell, it took three drunken driving charges and 13 years of consequences to decide to get sober despite that he lost both his mom and uncle to addiction.

Crandell's mugshot. Image via Racing for Recovery.


He knew that turning things around wouldn’t be easy, as it often isn’t when we rely on something to help us function or, ironically, escape. Facing the world with wounds open and learning to live life all over again is no easy task.

So how did he do it? He stopped running from himself and started running toward something more meaningful.

Image via Racing for Recovery.

There’s plenty of evidence that points to the benefits of fitness for preventing relapse, with preliminary studies noting that regular exercise leads to better health outcomes for those susceptible to substance abuse. It's also known to help tackle stress, anxiety, and depression, all challenges associated with recovery.

There are a lot of theories as to why it works. It could be the social component, the distraction it offers — boredom is the enemy of sobriety after all — or the neurobiological impact (ever hear of a "runner’s high"?).

"Not only does it help improve our physical condition, it is a mental, spiritual, and emotional enhancer as well ... it also helps to reduce cravings for drugs early in addiction," Crandell says.

It’s a path many have taken; an addictive personality can thrive when pushing limits and enduring physical intensity.

Image via Racing for Recovery.

Determined to take a different route, Crandell looked for healthy outlets to sustain him and invested his energy in a healthier lifestyle, with physical fitness being a major part of his recovery.

The chemical rewards of exercise can be an amazing rush and help boost self-confidence, too.

"With each step, pedal of bike, or swim stroke, or doing yoga, I am improving physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually," he explains. "It allows me to be my best for myself and others."

It was after his fourth Ironman triathlon in New Zealand that Crandell caught the attention of local press. "The response was overwhelming," he says.

Image via Racing for Recovery.

Realizing he was onto something, he literally ran with it, starting a nonprofit called Racing for Recovery in 2001.

The organization aims to prevent substance abuse by promoting a healthy lifestyle for people affected by addiction.

"I get to help both recovering people and their families," he shares, "and to watch heartbreaking situations evolve into healing is awesome."

In the years since its founding, Racing for Recovery has evolved. The organization hosts 10 support groups weekly, 5Ks and 10Ks galore (running or walking, whichever is your speed), social events for connecting with others in recovery, educational groups, counseling, film screenings, and much more.

At the heart of it all? A passion for health, a commitment to recovery, and Crandell’s determination to help others find both.

Image via Racing for Recovery.

"If I can do this, so can you," Crandell says.

"Asking for help is not weakness, but rather it is giving yourself the opportunity to live the sober life you deserve."

Crandell hopes the organization will grow from here. Residential housing is in the works, programming continues to expand, and he wants to bring the approach to other cities and countries where it’s needed.

Crandell has seen firsthand the transformative power of fitness for those struggling with addiction and trauma — something he’s both lived as a survivor and witnessed as a licensed chemical dependency counselor and licensed professional clinical counselor.

Image via Racing for Recovery.

Substance abuse is an incredible challenge, one that millions of adults face every day in this country. Even so, Crandell’s journey is undeniable proof that there’s still hope and that dependency isn’t destiny.

The first step is often the most difficult. But for Crandell, that first step has taken him all around the world, affecting countless lives along the way. If that’s not a reason to be hopeful, I don’t know what is.

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Comedy legend Carol Burnett once said, "Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head." She wasn't joking.

Going through childbirth is widely acknowledged as one of the most grueling things a human can endure. Having birthed three babies myself, I can attest that Burnett's description is fairly accurate—if that seemingly impossible lip-stretching feat lasted for hours and involved a much more sensitive part of your body.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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