Tears were streaming down my face as I struggled to breathe. I could barely get enough oxygen to my lungs as my heart pumped ferociously. I felt as if I was going to collapse from exhaustion, but I kept running. I could see the finish line at the bottom of Sixth Street; it looked so close but felt impossibly far away. “Just one more mile”, “just a few more steps”, “you’re almost there”, “you can do this” – things I kept repeating in my head. I crossed the finish line of the 2017 Leadville Marathon after running for more than five hours and further than any distance I had ever ran before.
The tears were not from pain but from joy, I was elated at completing this accomplishment. Running a marathon was something I thought was impossible, something that I would never accomplish in my life. Yet here I was, at the finish line, being handed a medal and a coffee mug. I felt happy, I felt accomplished, and I felt truly alive.
My story starts almost exactly one year before this moment, in the beginning of the summer of 2016. I was 21 and should have had the whole world in front of me, but I was troubled and unhappy. I was extremely depressed and no matter how hard I tried I could not make sense of the world around me. I was spiraling out of control into a deep abyss filled with drugs and alcohol that numbed my pain and allowed me to sleep. I would have panic attacks daily, curling up into a ball and crying until I could muster up the energy to get up and take a shot of tequila.
I knew I had a problem but didn’t know what to do. I sought help with CU counseling, I went to several crisis centers, and I had the suicide hotline on speed dial. These things all helped to settle my nerves after severe panic attacks, but they did not help to address my underlying issues. I was still drinking daily and could not stop. I was supposed to be working as a camp counselor that summer and knew that I could not be responsible for the lives of children if I could not even be responsible for my own life. During staff training I had a major panic attack after a series of bad dreams that put me over the edge. I had to do something, or I was going to kill myself. With the help of the camp director and my parents I found a rehab to admit myself into.
The first few days of sobriety are tough, especially in a foreign environment around people you don’t know and don’t fully trust. My first night was spent in a mental institution because I was threatening suicide. The second day I refused to leave my room. The third day was a blur of new drugs they put me on. I finally settled in and found myself interacting with the others around me. I soon made friends and started trusting the psychiatrists and therapists. It was comforting to be around people dealing with similar issues. It was refreshing to be able to talk about what was on my mind without the fear of being judged. I learned new tools to help cope with my emotions. I learned that alcoholism is a disease and can be treated. I learned a lot about myself and had a new take on the world. I left rehab after 21 days.
That fall I adopted a puppy, Talus, into my life. It was going to be a big responsibility but caring for something other than myself gave my life meaning. I finally had a reason to get up in the morning, even if it was to let her out so she didn’t poop in the house. I knew that getting a husky meant a lot of exercise and I was ready to commit to being the best dog dad that I could be. Luckily as a pup, I could wear her out pretty easily; going around the block would tire us both out. Soon we were running a couple of miles every day, Talus even climbed her first 14er when she was three months old!
The exploration of new trails inspired me to keep running and pushing my limits. There was something so freeing about traveling by foot. The ability to leave my house and run up Bear Peak or Green Mountain made me feel like I could do anything. The soft steps and heavy breathing were a meditation that I found nowhere else. Running felt natural, it felt right, it felt like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. Nothing else mattered when I was out on a trail, I could simply exist.
I ran my first marathon in Leadville only seven months after adopting Talus. Tomorrow I am toeing the line at Leadville for the 3rd year in a row. I feel happy and healthy and would not be here without the help of my friends and family. I look to the future with big dreams and an open heart rather than with fear, anxiety, and a closed mind. I feel like I have a purpose in running and a meaning in caring for Talus.
Everything is not rainbows and butterflies. I still have days filled with depression, but they are few and far between, and I now have the tools necessary to overcome these emotions. A few months ago, I was out climbing in the Flatirons after an emotional day dealing with my ex. As I reached the summit of Stairway to Heaven, I was struck by a major panic attack. I stared at the 300 ft vertical drop from the summit and thought about how quick it could all be over. I sat there pondering what it would be like to jump and I let my foot hover over the edge. Then I thought about Talus, my friends, and my family and realized how much I have to live for. I decided that I want to run more than I wanted to jump.
I want to thank Mike Mac, Adam Resseguie, Kyle Gilbert, Kevin Gassaway, Mike Adler, Oliver Fisher, Joe Sisk, and my parents for supporting me going to rehab. I want to thank all of the Brotherhood of Outdoorsmen for being like a family to me. I would not be here without you all. If anyone out there is struggling with depression, I urge you to seek help. You are a valuable person are worth it. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255