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Former Drug Addict Finds Solace in Triathlons

Eddie Freas, 33, has found a different way to fight his 20-year addiction to alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine—he started training for and entering triathlons. “I feel better when I’m working out,” Freas told CNN’s Madison Park. “It does wonders for the mind. The reason I started running—it was a switch that went off in my head. I started feeling positive and feeling great about myself.”

Freas started stealing bottles of Amaretto and rum from his mother’s liquor cabinet at age 13, and soon after started using marijuana and cocaine. By his senior year in high school, he was ejected from the football and wrestling teams after failing a drug test. One day when he was feeling especially low after a three-day binge in 2007, he caught a story on ESPN about a former drug addict who competed in triathlons.

The story was about Todd Crandell, who lost a college hockey scholarship due to his drug addiction. After 13 years of using drugs, Crandell started competing in Ironman races and found positive ways to fight addition through his program, Racing for Recovery.

“His whole story seemed like mine,” Freas said. “That’s why it hit me so much. It was my story but it happened to somebody else. I knew I had to get back into fitness.” Freas traveled to the Racing for Recovery office in Ohio, where he says he learned to “stay clean and use other things—fitness instead of drugs.”

On his first day, Freas ran 10 miles. “It killed me…I was just so motivated. I was sore for a week and I gradually got into it. As soon as I started including fitness into my everyday lifestyle, it made it so much easier. It kept me busy and because of the physical fitness, it was making me feel better about myself.” Freas kept pushing himself and raced in his first Ironman competition in 2008.

Freas spent six months in Ohio and then returned to his hometown of New Jersey. “I didn’t want to come back home, because this was where I did all the dirt, all the partying and stuff,” Freas said. “As time went on, I had to come back here. My life is turned around. I got to help people in my hometown.”

In New Jersey, Freas began helping to train a 19-year-old former high school wrestler who is recovering from a four-year heroin addiction. After a near-fatal overdose, he wanted to get clean. The teen will race for the first time at Racing for Recovery’s half triathlon in Monroe, Michigan, this Sunday.

Research has shown that exercise releases endorphins and can be an antidepressant. “If they’re able to get this natural high, through a natural endeavor such as exercise, it allows them to replace the means to achieve that high with a more positive approach,” says Dr. Cedric Bryant, the chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. “The thought centers around the release of mood-altering brain chemicals, mainly endorphins…It gives you euphoria or what you call ‘runner’s high,’” Bryant said.

Crandell explains that Racing for Recovery’s purpose is not to turn everyone into an athlete, but to focus on positive pursuits in a person’s life. “Whatever you lost during your addiction, that should be your Ironman, not just running,” Crandell said. “If your goal is to become a teacher, let that be your Ironman.”

Source: CNN, Madison Park, Former Drug Addicts Find New Fixation on Triathlons, June 6, 2009

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