TARRANT CROSS CHILD: Rehab, running and rising in the North
THROUGH HIS OWN EXPERIENCE EMERGING FROM THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR, HE’S NOW BRINGING HOPE TO COMMUNITIES IN NORTHERN SASKATCHEWAN FACING HIGH RATES OF SUICIDE AND MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES AMONG THEIR YOUTH
TThe transformative power of running pulses through every part of Tarrant Cross Child’s being. In 1998, Cross Child surprised the local running community with a win at Saskatchewan Marathon in his hometown of Saskatoon. It was a celebratory day for him and his fiancée, Celeste, a runner herself, ran her first half-marathon that day. They’d met as teenagers, running i n Medicine Hat, and the sport was more of a lifestyle for them now, and a significant part of their relationship.
Those around him assumed that Cross Child was happily settling in to a dream life. He was fit, focused on improving as a runner, had started a tiling business and was beginning to look toward building a family.
“I was engaged to be married, had a good trade, involved in a youth program at our church, looking to buy our first home and, of course, improving my running,” says Cross Child. “After we accomplished all that and started to settle in as a new family and having our first child, addiction slowly crept in.” The slide into addiction stemmed out of depression, and became steeper in 2004 when Cross Child was rocked by the death of his 12-year-old nephew. At the time he relied on alcohol for comfort; then with the passing of his mother, three years later, he became further ensnarled. “I was angry and the drinking increased and I started to gamble. This is when the addiction started to ruin my life, “says Cross Child. “Very slowly at times, and yet very fast it affected my relationships, my running, my business – all parts of my life.” Years went by as Cross Child struggled to keep his once-thriving business af loat and he was losing his capacity to be a loving, supportive father and husband; all the while his will to run was countered by the ugly demands of a creeping addiction. He looks back now to one spring day, and an agonizing walk along the South Saskatchewan River, when he felt a yearning to run.
“I was so depressed and hungover walking along the river one morning,” he recalls. “Then soon several runners passed by and it turned out to be the Saskatchewan Marathon race. I remembered winning, and wished I was running it.”
But instead, Cross Child gave in to drinking and further gambling, driving his family into debt and distancing himself emotionally from those who loved him.
In April of 2014, the shame and guilt associated with his addiction became too much to bare. He was convinced his wife and young children would be better without him.
“I felt defeated, hopeless, unfixable and that there was absolutely no way out of this pit that I was in,” recalls Cross Child. “I had four children, three boys ages five, eight, 10 and one beautiful 12-year-old girl. I wrote them each letters and left them on the table prior to my suicide attempt.”
Cross Child woke up in a hospital bed in Saskatoon. Celeste was sitting in the chair next to his bed. The couple had run countless memorable miles together in those early years before addiction took over their family’s life. Still, as her husband’s will to run faded, Celeste stayed committed to the sport. It became her saving grace over the course of many tumultuous years, as she faced the financial threat of losing their home, and the emotional toll of witnessing the man she loves destroy himself.
“When I ran it felt like things could be OK,” Celeste says. “It was something I could control when everything else was out of control. I would just let my thoughts wander, or pray.” Running was the one time she could let her thoughts unravel so she could momentarily slow down and relax, helping her to figure out what to do next. But as she left the trails and headed home, other women would run the other direction who seemed carefree, and she wondered what it might feel like to be without the burdens awaiting her upon her return home.
For years Celeste says she lived with “knots in her stomach,” not knowing what was next to come for her family. On the day she sat with her husband in the hospital those knots clenched tighter as the limited number of affordable treatment options became stunningly real.
“I had no idea where he was going to go,” she says looking back on the panicked day after he survived his suicide attempt, when the details of what comes next began to sink in. “The thought of having to say, ‘ For your own good, you can’t come home,’ was actually making me sick,” she says. “I knew I couldn’t look after him. He had made it clear he wanted to kill himself.”
A 12-month religious residential rehabilitation centre called Teen Challenge, just outside of Allan Sask., looked to be the only viable option, but Celeste knew getting Cross Child to commit to the program was going to be a long shot. “I would have never thought he’d go because he was so against anything faith-based,” she says.
“My first feeling after waking up in the hospital was anger,” says Cross Child. But as his anger turned into confusion he says he knew he needed help – and he made a desperate plea to a higher power, even though he had been rejecting the idea of the existence of a God during his years of addiction.
“I thought my rock bottom was when I tried to end my life, but in the hospital I felt double what I felt before my suicide attempt,” Cross Child says. “I called on God for help during intense shaking, crying and sweating: ‘If you are real and have a plan for me I need a sign right now.’” As he was desperately muttering this a nurse came into the room.
“She noticed in my file that I was considering Teen Challenge and told me that it was a great place and that her mother cuts hair there once a month. I felt this peace come over me and I felt like I had hope again,” he describes. “I felt this massive breakthrough deep down inside.” Days later, on April 28, 2014, Cross Child walked up the steps of the Teen Challenge Saskatchewan Men’s Centre and began his journey toward healing.
AA small shed barely interrupts the Prairie skyline along the 10-acre plot of land just outside t he small town of Allan, Sask . For the unaffected passing by, it would seem nothing more than another weather-worn wooden structure dotting the vast, often homogenous, land of the Canadian Prairies. But for Cross Child, this unremarkable building became a tangible starting point in his recovery. Cross Child spent a year at the Teen Challenge Saskatchewan Men’s Centre, during which he had limited contact with his family. The focus was on facing his struggles and healing. It was during this time he also finally rediscovered his love of running, and stride by stride began putting the pieces of himself back together.
“It was a lightbulb moment,” says Cross Child. “I thought, ‘I’m going to go for a run.’” As part of the rehabilitation process the centre’s professionals encourage the men to exercise, but little did they know the giant they were awakening within Cross Child.
“I was only allowed to go to the shed and back, which was about a kilometre and half, which was fine with me because I had difficulty even doing that at first.” But quickly those more frustratingly short, laboured efforts became easier, and Cross Child was seeking out more space to run.
“Soon I needed special permission to go to the farmers’ turn-off, then to the Allan turn-off, and then to the railroad tracks.” Then, one fall day, as the combines traced the wheat-filled outskirts of the centre’s boundaries, Cross Child felt an unrelenting desire to push his own boundaries; and as the rehab centre fell from his sight, he crossed the railroad tracks and kept on running.
He was healing, and along the way receiving ongoing support from Celeste, with whom he shared the stories of his running adventures in his daily diary. Both started journalling on the day he committed to going to rehab and they continued writing throughout Cross Child’s time at the recovery centre, exchanging journals with one another on their monthly visits.
“When I read he was running again I was extremely excited because I knew that would be a part of his healing,” says Celeste. “And running was how we met and such a big part of our lives when he was healthy.”
As much as running had been a part of their lives, the couple lost touch with others in the running community through the more chaotic years of Cross Child ’s addiction. But a chance meeting between Celeste and one of Cross Child’s former running partners, Brian Michasiw, opened up an opportunity for the couple to reconnect.
During their conversation, Celeste spoke about the turmoil their family had been through. “I really admired how open and honest Celeste was with me. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her to tell me,” recalls Michasiw, who is a six-time winner of the Saskatchewan Marathon and owner of Brainsport, a running store in Saskatoon.
Celeste went on to tell him about how Cross Child was starting to run again while in rehab, but without proper shoes. Michasiw, whose shoe collection is vast and ever-changing, offered a few pairs of closeto-brand-new shoes for Cross Child. “Tarrant and I are the same shoe size and I had no shortage of shoes to give him,” Michasiw says. “I was glad to help, but wished there was more I could do.”
It may not have felt like enough to Michasiw, but to Cross Child t hose shoes were a lifeline. He cont inued r unning into t he golden days of fall and on t hrough t he deep-freeze and dark days of winter. All t he while working toward a goal he set for himself short ly after t aking t hose f irst few r uns to t he shed and back early on in his recover y – he wanted to get back to t he st art line of t he of t he Saskatchewan Marathon. It was t he last weekend in May, just weeks after he would comple his year-long st ay at t he recover y cent re.
Brian Michasiw and Tarrant Cross Child
Cross Child running the Saskatchewan Marathon 2015