You can run away from your problems — literally. My brother, Robert, is living proof of that. This past weekend he ran his first 1/2 marathon. He ran it in an impressive 2:02! He trained for the race, but only really has been running for the past 3 months. By any normal standards, this would be an accomplishment to be very proud of. Those of us who have taken on the challenge of getting off the couch and running a 10K or 1/2 marathon, or maybe participating in their first triathlon, know that it is a lot of work. But what my brother has done is astonishing.
Look at the smiling man in this photograph with a finishers medal around his neck and know that before November 2011, he was homeless. How did he become homeless? Well, one circumstance after another — plus more than 6 years of severe alcohol addiction led my brother to living in shelters and on the streets of Houston.
This is a deeply personal story and certainly exposes what my brother may have been reluctant to admit for years. Problems like alcoholism are hard to talk about. But I’ve asked his permission to tell his story briefly in this post.
After he finished his race I sent him an email:
“I’m so proud of you. Congrats on your race today. I want to write a post about you for my blog. I want to tell people how far you’ve come from alcoholism and homelessness to running a half marathon. But I want to respect your privacy, too. So let me know how much or how little you want me to share.“
“Tell everything, give my phone number, I don’t care….”
I loved that response. It was a barrier broken. It showed me that he felt the pride of this accomplishment on Saturday. And he deserves that.
It would be difficult for me to tell you the ENTIRE story of what has happened over the years. That would be a novel. The compressed version is that 6 years ago my brother was struggling. Drinking was consuming his life and affecting him and everyone around him. Honestly, it was putting his life and other lives at risk. The destructive path we could see… but perhaps he thought he had control of it. To make it much more difficult, our family had experienced this before. Our father was also an alcoholic. With each incident, when I thought that Robert had hit his “rock bottom”… there was more, including seeing him in-and-out of the hospital, in-and-out of treatment programs and living on the streets.
I am one of 4 siblings. Over the years we have gotten into cycling, running and triathlons. I’ve enjoyed being able to go on bike trips or compete in races with my siblings. I even coined the name “Team Svehla”. But there was always one missing… Robert. I told my sister that on my first 70.3 triathlon I was thinking of Robert. In the midst of digging deep to get through such a long, challenging race I thought… “why would you torture yourself with alcohol when you could torture yourself with triathlons!” It seems like an outrageous statement, but I was thinking they both “hurt”… just one is destructive and one is productive.
In November of last year, Robert turned a corner. He took to the pavement and started running. He downloaded his 1/2 marathon plan and followed it. He texted me almost daily with excitement or questions…. “need some good running tunes….” “got a slight foot strain, what do I do?”… “tempo run today… getting faster…” Each time we would talk or text, I could see that like the rest of us… he was being sucked into it!
My brother is a smart, funny, and gentle man. Most importantly, my brother is a sober man. I am so proud of him and I am hopeful for his future. SO HOPEFUL. So let’s keep running, Robert. Let’s leave homelessness and alcoholism in the dust and keep moving forward.