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Triathlete goes more than an extra mile

October 10, 2017
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Todd Crandell launched Racing for Recovery with a modest initial goal of hosting an annual 5K run. Now the accomplished triathlete with more than two decades of sobriety is going a much longer distance to help individuals and families affected by trauma and addiction.

“Our focus is on the 'why' someone is self-destructing,” the 50-year-old Crandell says in describing the Holland, Ohio treatment and support organization. “We want to know why the traumas are there, why there is a lack of self-esteem.”

Racing for Recovery, based not far from Crandell's lifetime hometown of Sylvania in northwest Ohio, has grown in the past couple of years from what started as a hub for support group meetings to a direct-services organization offering assessment, individual and family counseling, and intensive outpatient treatment. It mainly serves the Medicaid-eligible population. Pondering what he has seen built, Crandell says, “I wish this had been available when I was using. I would have eaten this stuff up.”

Survivor of suicide

Crandell's mother died by suicide when her son was 3, and two of her siblings also were suicide victims. Substance use was prominent in the family history, and Crandell says he began drinking at 13.

“Hockey as a kid was my saving grace,” he says. “It was the only thing I had confidence in.” But his substance use derailed what had looked to be a promising future in the sport. Crandell was able to earn his high school diploma despite being expelled from school at one point, and he would go on to college. But he spent 13 years in active addiction to just about anything he could get his hands on, until a third drunk-driving charge at age 26 led to his decision to take a different path—notably, one he navigated without formal treatment.

The support group meetings he attended early in his recovery left him wanting something more, particularly when he observed others whose post-meeting activities consisted of scarfing down doughnuts and guzzling coffee. He turned back to fitness, always recalling that when he was in active addiction he had once watched a triathlon on television and told himself he'd like to do that someday.

Crandell now has 28 Ironman triathlons under his belt, as well as two Ultramans (a grueling three-day test of swimming, bicycling and running). “It's about using the physical aspect to help all the other areas,” Crandell says of an important emphasis in his personal and professional life.

Maintaining balance

Racing for Recovery is not about growing a generation of triathletes, but focuses more broadly on achieving and maintaining a balanced lifestyle that embraces family, friends and faith as much as fitness.

“It's not about not using,” Crandell explains. “It's about being happy you're not using, and living life to the fullest.”

The organization expanded its focus as Crandell experienced more demands on his time. Once he started getting invited to speaking engagements because of the popularity of the organization's recovery meetings, he realized he needed a stronger foundation of knowledge about addiction. Crandell received a master's in counseling a decade ago and is now a licensed professional clinical counselor and licensed independent chemical dependency counselor in Ohio.

Racing for Recovery touches many lives with a modest presence of just six full-time staff. It conducts around 10 assessments per week, sees 20 patients in individual counseling sessions, and has a capacity of 50 in its IOP. With its emphasis on wellness, “We want to show there is a different way to attain and sustain sobriety,” Crandell says.