From addicts to Ironmen

Todd Crandall competes in an Ironman race. He is a recovering drug addict who founded Racing for Recovery. // Images Courtesy Racing for Recovery

Competitors are racing in the half Ironman in Benton Harbor today.

The 70.3 mile race requires a significant amount of mental toughness and resilience. The event pushes the human body to its limit in a healthy way.

Three competitors who are former substance abusers know what it feels like to sink in the opposite direction. During their days of addiction, they never thought it would be possible to compete in an Ironman race. Physical fitness is now key in their quest to stay sober and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Todd Crandell's alcohol and drug addiction started at age 13. He turned to drugs to numb the pain after his mother's suicide. That emotional loss left him feeling abandoned, isolated, angry, and depressed, and he was looking for a way to handle those symptoms.

"I remember watching the Ironman back during my drug years, with actually a pile of cocaine in front of me, and I remember seeing it and saying 'I'd like to do that some day.," says recovering drug addict Todd Crandell. "I was a man who never thought I would live to reach the age of 16 - let alone 50. I lived in my car. I've been in jails. I've lost my family. I've lost friends. I lost everything."

That addiction spiral halted after his third drunk driving charge when he was 26 years old.

“I look at it like I got a second chance at life,” says Crandell.

He got into physical fitness and Ironman competitions in his first few years sober. That's when he found it was just what he needed. To date, Crandall has done 28 Ironmans and today will be his 43rd half Ironman.

Recovering cocaine addict Scott Thompson is also competing in today’s half Ironman.

He says, “It helps kind of exercise some of the demons that are still – I feel – I have a lot of guilt.”

Crandell says, "Recovery is a mind, body and spirit process that is never ending."

Inspired to help others, Crandell founded Racing for Recovery, which is a non-profit that helps people reach a sober lifestyle through fitness.

"My whole mission is to show people - with sobriety, anything is possible,” says Crandell.

Just the half ironman requires competitors swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13.1 miles. That totals 70.3 miles.

Ryan Ames is a recovering alcoholic who has found the physical challenge of Ironman competitions helps keep himself focused on what’s important.

"It's very challenging,” says Ames. “Most people say this is a three discipline sport. The fourth discipline would be the mental."

Crandell, Thompson and Ames each have found fitness is their chosen activity to stay healthy, but they acknowledge there are many ways people can move away from addiction.

“Like anyone in recovery you need to develop your own specific toolbox,” says Thompson, “athletics and exercise happens to be mine."

"It's not specifically about doing Ironman. This is a thing that I do personally, and it promotes our organization,” says Crandell. “But I want people to understand - families can be healed. They can go on and get jobs. They can get educated. They can find a relationship with God or another spiritual being, and life goes on and it's incredible. And if I can do this, anybody can do it."

If you or one of your family members need help with addiction – visit

Their facility is based in Toledo, Ohio, but they welcome anyone from out of state, and counselors are available for video or phone counseling.

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