Ironman Competitor Tells of Addiction, Recovery
By: John Mulcahy
ADRIAN, Mich. — Six years into sobriety after 13 years of drug and alcohol addiction, Todd Crandell began competing in Ironman Triathlon competitions.
Today Crandell, 44, of Sylvania, Ohio, has completed 19 full-length Ironman Triathlons and is one of only 25 people in the world to have completed both the Hawaiian and Canadian Ultraman Triathlons.
Just as important, in 2001, he founded Racing for Recovery, a program that uses support groups that include family and community as well as fitness and positive alternatives to help people overcome addiction.
Crandell, who now devotes himself full-time to Racing for Recovery along with his athletic pursuits, told his story to an audience of about 100 people Tuesday at Dawson Auditorium at Adrian College.
Crandell explained that his mother, also a drug addict, committed suicide when he was 3 years old. While he recognizes the scar that left, he is adamant that it was his choice to start using alcohol and drugs.
“It’s such a cop-out to think that somebody can tell somebody else what to do,” he said.
Crandall recalled that he took his first taste of beer when he was in eighth grade, “to see what the stuff tasted like.” Over the years, including while he was participating in sports in high school, he continued to drink, and his addiction escalated to marijuana, LSD, quaaludes, cocaine and other drugs, culminating in heroin addiction, he said.
“I was finally arrived at the highest level of being a drug addict,” Crandell said.
Along the way he had been kicked off his high school hockey team where he had been a promising player, had been kicked out of high school and kicked out of his home twice by his father and stepmother, failed at college, lost jobs, lived in his car and was arrested multiple times for drunken driving and spent time in jail.
Then, following his third drunken driving arrest, he decided to change on April 15, 1993.
“I just put the beer down, said I’m done, that’s the end of it,” Crandell said.
He spent several years in traditional support groups, married, had children and, paradoxically, got a job as a pharmaceutical representative.
Still suffering from low self-esteem, he sought out the grueling Ironman Triathlon, with its combined swimming, running and bicycling distance of more than 140 miles, to challenge himself.
After some media attention because of his unusual background for a triathlon athlete, he founded Racing for Recovery.
The program focuses on addiction prevention and showing that sobriety can be achieved by anyone, he said.
He estimates that 40,000 people have passed through Racing for Recovery in some way, including addicts, family members or other members of society.
At present, the program has meetings in Sylvania, Toledo and Perrysburg, Ohio.
“I’d love to get a group started here,” said Crandell, who also is a professional counselor.
Racing for Recovery also sponsors 5K run/walks and half Ironman Distance Triathlons, including one in Monroe.
The organization is supported through donations, entry fees for events and sales of merchandise such as sweatshirts, Crandell said in an interview after his talk.
Lenawee County Probate Judge Gregg P. Iddings, who invited Crandell to speak with the help of other sponsors, said Crandell also addressed more than 500 students Tuesday at Adrian High School and talked at the Maurice Spear Campus juvenile detention center.
“I wanted to get his message across,” Iddings said before Crandell’s presentation. “Anything is possible by good decisions.”