Run­ning for his life

Re­cov­er­ing ad­dict trades crack binges for marathons

Ottawa Citizen - - CITY - KELLY EGAN

For eight years, Barry burned through his crack in binges; all-time to­tal un­known, but well into six fig­ures of blown money, up in smoke through a lit­tle pipe.

He once went 17 days, he said, barely sleep­ing a wink, barely eat­ing, bot­tom­ing out at a skele­tal 135 pounds. The crack was king; he was slave.

It cost him a good job, and a house; on bad days, maybe $1,000. It cost him many things with­out price tags.

But he’s in a bet­ter place now. Barry, 44, who doesn’t want his last name pub­lished as he re­builds his life, is near­ing the end of a five-month ad­dic­tion-treat­ment pro­gram run by the Ot­tawa Mis­sion, one of the most in­ten­sive of its kind in Canada.

And, since the mid­dle of July, Barry has learned to do one thing very, very well: Run.

On Nov. 12, Barry ran in the in­au­gu­ral Ot­tawa Mis­sion Pos­si­ble Half Marathon, a loop that launched from The Marshes golf course in Kanata.

He had never re­ally run in a road race be­fore, but was an ac­com­plished high school wrestler in his na­tive Sud­bury. He stunned his run­ning coaches by fin­ish­ing 17th in a field of 212, with a time of one hour, 37 min­utes. Is that good? “It’s un­be­liev­able,” said Christo­pher Paine, 49, one of the lead­ers of the Mis­sion’s weekly run­ning group. “It’s stag­ger­ing. Freak­ish.”

Not to men­tion that Barry, for much of the race, couldn’t make sense of the road mark­ers and was never sure how far along he was. But he had a plan: “Pass, but don’t be passed.” Boy, did it work.

Barry once had a good job with a phone com­pany as a line­man. But booze and drugs were reg­u­lar demons, de­spite two tries at 28day treat­ments. He beat the booze, but not drugs. “I didn’t give crack co­caine the re­spect it de­served,” he says.

He fell into a pat­tern. He would work for a spell, then binge-use for a cou­ple of weeks at a time. When the line­man job was fi­nally lost, he just geared up with new tools and found an­other; then binged again.

Crack, he dis­cov­ered, is not hard to find, not even in small-town On­tario. “It’s not hard to get crack any­where.”

He heard about the Mis­sion pro­gram while in detox in Sud­bury. He ar­rived in mid-july and started run­ning a few days later.

The Mis­sion run group meets ev­ery Satur­day morn­ing, from spring to Novem­ber. Numbers vary; some­times only one client is there, some­times eight or nine. It is not an en­durance test. Some opt for a brisk walk.

Barry is good with dates, which he keeps writ­ten on a piece of pa­per in his pocket. Clean on July 5, at the Mis­sion on July 16, quit smok­ing cig­a­rettes on July 25, walked/ran his first five kilo­me­tres on July 30.

In Au­gust and Septem­ber, he ran 80 km. In Oc­to­ber, ramp­ing up to race day, he to­talled 201.5.

“I think about every­thing,” he said, when asked about his run­ning mind­set. “My past. My fu­ture. My friends. My fam­ily. When I’m run­ning, I can be laugh­ing in­side or have tears run­ning down my face.”

He had run 20 km a cou­ple of times be­fore race day, so he knew he could com­plete the dis­tance. How­ever, a cou­ple of weeks be­fore the big day, he came up with an Achilles in­jury and had to pause train­ing.

For a man who tends to be ob­ses­sive, it was a good les­son, he said. The in­jury taught him three things: pa­tience, tol­er­ance and ac­cep­tance.

The week be­fore the race, he was back run­ning short dis­tances, feel­ing ready to go.

De­spite all the talk be­fore­hand about just hav­ing “a good run” and run­ning at a com­fort­able pace, he found his com­pet­i­tive spirit kicked in once out on the rolling course. Damn straight he would make this a race.

Near the fin­ish line, in fact, he wasn’t think­ing about achieve­ment or run­ning as a metaphor for self- im­prove­ment. “You know what I was think­ing? There was this girl ahead of me and all I wanted to do was pass her.” So he did.

It was only later that day, he said, that he felt a deep sense of ac­com­plish­ment and was nearly over­come with emo­tion. In only five months, he had gone from be­ing an edgy crack ad­dict to be­ing a com­pet­i­tive long-dis­tance run­ner.

He grad­u­ates from the Mis­sion pro­gram, called Life­house, in two weeks. He may well set­tle in Ot­tawa.

“This has been my home,” he said. “What they do here in one day just to­tally blows me away.”


Barry grad­u­ates from the Mis­sion Life­house pro­gram in two weeks. He has been clean since July 5, walked/ran his first five kilo­me­tres on July 30 and ran more than 200 kilo­me­tres in Oc­to­ber.

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