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

Canadian Running - - EXOTIC DESTINATION - By Tara Camp­bell

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

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