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

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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.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

I have plenty of space.

This article originally appeared on 04.09.16


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