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At the Finish Line

Updated: Jun 25, 2020


| This is the 373rd story of Our Life Logs |


1 | The Wound

“Lives are spared, families heal, things get better.”

That wasn’t how things began when I was born in 1966 in the US, that’s for sure. I mean things started out pretty normal I guess, but at the age of three, my mom committed suicide due to drugs and alcohol.  I was obviously too young to really grasp the situation and for a while, I handled it pretty well.  However, about 10 years after she was gone, I started my race for death.

I took my first drink at the age of 13. I was at a party and some peers had alcohol so I made a cognizant decision to try it. It seemed innocent enough at the time, but soon, the pace would pick up. The next time, I drank a whole bottle of Jack Daniels and added speed into the mix for good measure. That did the trick. Needless to say, I was pretty fucked up that night.

But aside from that, things were going pretty well I thought. I was excelling as a goalie in hockey by the time I was 15. I was thought of to be one of the best hockey players in the state of Ohio. I guess hockey was filling the void of my mother’s suicide, but that wasn’t enough. 

At the age of 16, I tried cocaine for the first time. I ended up doing a couple of grams (which is a lot) that first night. I was instantly hooked. I said to myself, “This is what I am looking for.”  Soon after that first dance with coke, I decided to take it on the bus to a road hockey game. I played that game high and ended up doing a couple of lines on the ride home, but I was caught with it and subsequently booted off the team. 

That started the spiral into almost oblivion. I went from that to drinking two-fifths of whiskey every day and snorting 1/4 oz of coke. Not to mention beer and cigarettes almost constantly. As far as the drugs went, I was into heroin, crack, quaaludes, mescaline; anything you put in front of me, I’d do it. It didn’t matter where I was or how it might affect me; I didn’t care. 

Just like that, I lost out on an abundance of opportunities, a better education, and a relationship with God.  Most importantly I lost my soul.

Me, 1989.
Me, 1989.

My mom leaving me caused some gaping hole inside of me that I couldn’t understand. I wanted to know why I hated myself so much. I knew my destiny was to end up like my mom, and my only thought was, “When, and how fast can I get there?”

Suicide runs in my family. Several of my family members killed themselves including my mom’s brother. He was on a path to medical school at Ohio State University and got into drugs. He then developed drug-induced schizophrenia and killed himself. So, you can see where I was probably headed.   

In 1991, my dad confronted me and told me to get to rehab or get out.  And I told him, yeah, I’ll go to rehab, but if you even think of taking this cocaine from me I’ll fucking kill you. I said that to my own dad. He sat there for six to eight hours with tears in his eyes saying we were going to have this conversation no matter what, begging and pleading for me to stop. Telling me what life would be like after my death, and how he couldn’t handle losing me too along with mom.

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2 | The Last Straw

During this period of time, I was in and out of jail. I ended up with three DUIs (Driving Under the Influence of drugs or alcohol). One day I almost went to prison for receiving stolen property but I was let off with a slap on the wrist. Later that day, I was arrested again for drinking. I was arrested numerous times, got in fights, and was into a lot of low-end criminal activity.

However, by the grace of God on April 15th, 1993, I got my third DUI and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. And here’s why.

That was two years after that confrontation with my dad. I somehow got a flat tire while I was driving, and hammered. I pulled off into an oil change facility and asked the manager if I could use the phone in his office. He obliged, and I called a friend of mine but proceeded to piss on the manager’s desk while I was talking on the phone. Subsequently, the cops were called, and the rest didn’t turn out well for me, as you could imagine. 

I barely remember any of it but the cop did say, “Where are the drugs, Todd?” They knew me pretty well at that point—which wasn’t a good thing.  I told him, “I’d done them all.”  Just imagine what a fucking mess I was then.

I served 33 days in jail for that one, and when I got out, I went back to my grandmother’s house where I was living at the time and cracked a beer. I remember it was roughly around noon and I finished my beer, slammed it on the table and said, “That’s It!” I can’t fully explain it, but somehow something clicked in my mind and I decided to make a change. Once and forever.

I called my grandma in the room and told her I was done. I quit cold turkey. I knew at that moment that it was over. I knew then that I could and would have everything in life that I was searching for in addiction that I never found. I detoxed on my own and it fucking sucked.  But, in my mind, I knew I did this shit to myself and I had to get through it. It was my duty. I owed it to myself and the people I hurt along the way. There was no question of if I was going to come back, it was when.

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3 | The Rise

My road to recovery began. I went to meetings, enrolled in college, and even started playing in pick-up hockey games. I never thought about using again. About a year and a half into my recovery, I met my wife, Melissa, in Toledo. Melissa was a blessing and still is a blessing to this day. We started a beautiful family together.

So, my personal life was starting to shape itself into what I had envisioned. However, I felt there should be something more. I was still missing something. Being athletic and active was always a part of my life before I got out of control, and now only playing some hockey once in a while wasn’t doing the trick. I guess I wasn’t really challenging myself enough physically and mentally. I never really did any running, but on a whim, in 1999, I decided to train for the Ironman Triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile marathon run). 

That year, I finished my first race, and I truly felt I was back. Every time I made it to the finish line, I felt that it was for the addict who didn’t make it last night or didn’t make it today. That’s what it meant to me.

Me during the marathon run.
Me during the marathon run.
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4 | What’s More

Still, I wanted to do something more. I wanted to help people and give back all those years I had thrown away. I knew the importance of fitness and family to recovery and started reaching out to addicts. That was the beginning of Racing for Recovery, a foundation I started to help the healing of recovering addicts. The goal was to offer them a real solution—to fully enjoy living in sobriety, not just to stop using drugs and exist.

The road was bumpy at first. I wasn’t making any money and my house went into foreclosure three times while our cars were being repossessed, but I didn’t let it stop me. I would sit up at night and think that maybe I made a mistake. Have I done the right thing in trying to help people while potentially losing my family?  But, I knew the path I was on and I knew it would work out if I just kept pushing, if I didn’t give up. All I had to do was look at who I was and who I had become to know that this was what I was supposed to do. 

I went to New Zealand in March of 2001 and did my fourth Ironman. When I came back a local newspaper, The Toledo Blade, wanted to do a story on me and how I’d turned my life around. That ended up becoming the catalyst to Racing for Recovery. That’s when things started to happen. Cops that arrested me called to congratulate me. People I did drugs with were writing to me from prison. Former coaches reached out to me. Other friends called and told me they couldn’t believe I was still alive. It was then I realized that I might really be able to help people with my story.

Ever since then, Racing for Recovery has been my passion.

My mom’s suicide left a hole in my heart, and for years I drowned my grief with alcohol and drugs. I went through 13 years of misery and nothing good came from it, except for Racing for Recovery. Through it, I’ve turned my trauma into something positive. I’m glad that I’m now able to reach people, from young kids to adults, and potentially get them on their way to a better life. 


This is the story of Todd Crandell

Todd currently resides in Holland, Ohio, with his family, where he proudly sits as the founder and president of Racing for Recovery™. When Todd was three, his mom committed suicide which greatly affected how he grew up and eventually led him down a dark path of drug and alcohol abuse. It wasn’t until he got his third DUI that he made the choice to get sober and live a stable life. Through that journey, he started Racing for Recovery, a foundation designed to prevent substance abuse in adolescents and adults, as well as offer a positive alternative to those currently battling addiction. Since starting the foundation, Todd went back and obtained a Master’s Degree in Counseling. Additionally, he became a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) and Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor (LICDC). His program now sees about 400 total clients per week and the support group meeting sees another 250-300 people per week. It combines families and users in one setting to help addicts understand how their family members are feeling. Todd most of all wants to help others live happily in sobriety.

Todd and his beautiful family.
Todd and his beautiful family.


This story first touched our hearts on June 17, 2019.

| Writer: Scott Blair | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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