How One Man Went From Addict to Ironman

By Kelly Burch 09/13/16

After 13 years of addiction, Todd Crandell has transformed himself into a beacon of hope.

How One Man Went From Addict to Ironman
Photo via Todd Crandell/YouTube

During the 13 years that Todd Crandell was an active addict—abusing alcohol, heroin and cocaine—he could barely make it through the day. He never imagined that he would become one of the most elite endurance athletes in the world, becoming the only finisher of the 2008 Ultraman triathlon in Hawaii, a race that involved six miles of swimming, 52 miles of running and 261 miles of biking over three days. 

Yet, that’s just what Crandell did, turning his life around after a third DUI charge. “I didn’t think I deserved to live a life without drugs. I didn’t want to live a life without drugs. I didn’t know how to live a life without drugs,” he told Australia’s Channel 9 News in June.

Once he was ready for recovery, he realized that he needed an outlet for his addictive tendencies, and realized that athletics—specifically grueling Ironman races—were the perfect fix. He ran his first Ironman race in 1999, and has been competing ever since. 

“Cops that had arrested me were calling the house, former guys I did drugs with, and they were all like, ‘I can’t believe what you’re doing.’ And I thought, I could turn this into something that can help people,” Crandell told Channel 9 News. 

That led him to start Racing for Recovery in 2001. The non-profit organization provides counseling and support groups to people in recovery, alongside athletic events ranging from 5k walks to triathlons.

Crandell is now a licensed counselor and takes joy in encouraging others in recovery. “What I say to people to get them going is, you deserve a better life and you can achieve it,” he said.

That message is particularly important in Ohio, where Racing for Recovery is based. The state has been particularly hard hit by the heroin crisis. The organization's community support meetings there are filled with locals suffering with addiction and looking for guidance. 

Through the addiction epidemic, Crandell focuses on providing inspiration for people who need it most. “To just give them a glimmer of hope of what’s in front of them and say, you can have this. Let me show you how to get it,” he said. 

Although his story is amazing, Crandell insists that he is no more extraordinary than the next person. “I know that somebody is going to be watching this and looking at me and saying ‘I can’t do it. I’m lost.’ I felt exactly the way you feel. If I can do this, you can do it too.”

In 2012, after hearing about a client who had relapsed, Crandell took to YouTube to discuss self-sabotage. 

“Two things that are a part of people like us are low self-esteem, and we have a tendency to self-sabotage ourselves,” he said in the video. “Right now, you deserve to have a sober, healthy, productive lifestyle … You do not have to self-sabotage the goodness that is coming into your life because you chose to stop drinking ... You deserve and can obtain and sustain that sober lifestyle.”

Spreading that message is the biggest goal of Crandell’s life—one that he is happy to continue racing toward.  

Crandell talks about self-sabotage:

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.