The introduction is written by his teammate and friend, Jennifer Fox.
I first met Ed in May of 2021 when a small group of us met up in NYC to either run with or crew for our Herren Project teammate Christine. She was supposed to run her first marathon in Pittsburg, but of course, it was canceled due to COVID. It was an exciting weekend! First, Christine and I ran our first half marathon together last October, so I was pumped to celebrate with her. But also because I had only met most of the others virtually in our Team Facebook group. This team has been instrumental in my life; I was moved by just being in their presence and grateful – always grateful – for the opportunity.
Ed was a teammate that would be running the full 26.2 and one I had never met. With all of us gathered in front of our hotel on Long Island, in the early morning hours on May 2nd, he read a prayer to kick off the run.
The prayer, titled Praying to Forgive Yourself, God, and Others, begins like this:
I struggled with forgiving my mother for years. Even after I became an adult, she continued to be abusive, and I had to forgive her on a daily basis.
Those two sentences felt so intensely familiar that tears streamed down my face as he read them out loud. The rest of the prayer continued to dig deep, and at that moment, a connection was created with this man that I had never met; a kinship was immediately born. You see, there is a knowing amongst people who face their biggest fears and challenges in life and come out the other side, scathed but better for them. And I knew that we shared this common bond immediately.
I write this introduction because, without it, Ed’s story would be missing some context. He recently read the following story, a practice I believe he has before many a significant endeavor, when a group of friends and teammates joined him for 14 miles to celebrate his 14 years of sobriety on July 25th of this year.
This picture he chose is from that day as well. I am grateful for this new friend in my life and for the opportunity I had to run one loop of Central Park with him that day of Christine’s marathon. With a speaker strapped to his hydration vest, he ran through the park, music blaring and arms spread out like a free bird. Experiencing the joy that emanated out of him was something that will not soon be forgotten, and in that moment, I thought to myself, “I’ll have what he’s having.”
This is Ed’s sobriety story.
Thanks, everyone, for coming out to celebrate with me today. The first thing I want to say is that this isn’t really about me. In AA, we are taught that the best thing you can do to protect your recovery is to help another person in addiction. Sharing my story is one of the ways that I have been led to do that. It also aligns well with my faith walk. Sharing your story, I think, is one of the best ways to tell folks about how Jesus has moved in your life. AA is a spiritual program, so its ideals parallel very closely what I believe as a Christian. Also, we are on a run. And at this stage of my life, I have found that my faith, recovery, and running are all hopelessly and happily intersected – I find it difficult to talk about one without talking about the others, so you are going to hear about all three here this morning.
I was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, on October 12, 1969. Altoona, back then, was known primarily as a railroad town. My family was all railroad workers, my dad, my grandfather, my great grandfather, etc.
I grew up in your typical blue-collar, middle-class family. My parents bought my great-grandparents home, and that’s where I grew up with my sister. I grew up with loving parents and a pretty normal childhood. The culture I grew up in was the kind where you worked hard, got off work, and enjoyed yourself. My Dad relaxed by drinking a lot. He didn’t get particularly mean or irresponsible, but there was always beer around, and that was just the way it was.
I was a good student and a pretty decent athlete growing up. I wasn’t overly popular and kind of shy. I didn’t try many new things; looking back now I wish I had. Things like music or drama, or just being involved in things in general. I think I was afraid I would be made fun of and not be any good. So, I did nothing and became invisible to everyone but a small circle of close friends. I think I always did just enough not to be noticed, probably never stretching myself or tapping into my true potential. I believe that if you listened to what I just said, you could hear a kid beginning to live in fear. Fear of being who he was supposed to be. Fear of not measuring up. Fear of failure.
If you had asked me at that time and into adulthood if I was a Christian, I definitely would have said yes. The truth was that at that point, I didn’t really didn’t know what that meant and wasn’t particularly looking to see what it meant. That was probably driven by fear too. It is pretty scary to think about eternal things when you don’t know what that means or how to be assured of eternity. I bet I started reading the Bible, beginning with Genesis, several different times and never got very far. Maybe some of you have experienced the same thing.
Anyway, as I became a high schooler, life continued along, I had friends, I had fun, I was a decent student, same as before, doing just enough to stay off the radar and never really living life to the fullest. Still living a shy and fearful life, maybe not in my close circle of friends, but definitely in large groups or social settings. Public speaking was nerve-racking too. Somewhere in this high school time frame, I had my first experience with alcohol. I can remember it making me feel relaxed and made me think I was cool. Graduating from high school and going out into the working world, my relationship with alcohol grew. The people I surrounded myself with were all drinkers, and my social life started to revolve around alcohol as well. Alcohol made me feel accepted, one of the guys. I’m pretty sure establishing who I was as a man was a driving force in many things I did as well. Always trying to prove myself, prove I was finally a man. It wasn’t part of my plan to go down this road, but sure enough, bit by bit, click by click, I was veering way off where I was supposed to head in life.
In 1991, at the age of 21, I was arrested for DUI, and my life in chaos began to accelerate. What started as something to help me relax and feel accepted quickly started to control my life. Before I reached that point, I searched for my path in life, searching for a real purpose, but now alcohol was taking over. There were more alcohol-related trials and problems along the way, but now I’m going to fast forward a bit to 2005.
Somehow, through those years, and despite myself, I still experienced some personal and career successes. If you had told me then that in my future, I would be standing in front of a bunch of trail runners, out in the forest somewhere sharing my story of how I came to know Christ and of my recovery, I would have said you were nuts, but here I am. I have found in my life that is how God will sometimes work, moving to you to do things you never thought you would do or ever thought you could do.
In October of that year, I felt blessed to become a father. Twin daughters. I was married, bought a house, all that good stuff that life is supposed to be. I had a pretty good job with a good company. My boss actually would come into my office and tell me Bible stories. It was pretty interesting; he was so passionate about it that it was easy to listen to. He even gave me a Bible, which sat on my desk, gathering dust for several years.
I got arrested for a 3rd DUI in December of 2006. That brought more chaos. My marriage was crumbling (go figure, huh?), finances were a mess. Things were not good, but I thought I could keep juggling my life, I could do this, I could keep it together. I went before the judge, got sentenced to some jail time, and finally hit my rock bottom. In July of 2007, on a day I’ll never forget, I kissed my twin daughters on the head as they sat in their high chairs having lunch and walked out the door to report to the county jail, knowing I wouldn’t see them again for a while. It was the lowest moment of my life. It was a culmination of many bad decisions made over many years.
Fortunately, that’s not the end of my story. Somewhere in the mess that my life had become, I surrendered. I prayed. I asked for help. Now, I can’t tell you that instantaneously my situation changed and that I was now a saint, but it was a small step.
You know, I think, as humans, we always kind of believe that we’ll look for God after we clean ourselves up and fix our failings–and that is precisely wrong. God wants you right now, as you are, with all your failings, with all the messes you’ve made, all that junk you carry through your life. He wants you to accept his grace (forgiveness, unmerited favor, getting what you don’t deserve) and enter into a relationship with him just as you are.
How cool is that? God actually wants to know a broken person like me.
Also, in the midst of this, I had to inform my boss of what was going on, and I was fearful I would lose my job. Well, instead of telling me I was fired, he offered me a deal. He said he would come to pick me up at the work release center every day and take me to work. My part in the agreement was that I was to read a chapter in the book of John every night, and we would discuss it on the way to work every day. So, I shook the dust of that Bible (and it’s the Bible I use to this very day) and began to read it every day. Again, I can’t say I was instantly a completely different person, but slowly my outlook began to change.
I got through the jail time and made it back home. Life wasn’t rosy there. My actions proved to be the catalyst that ultimately led to divorce. But, during a particularly bad marriage day, I asked for help and met a couple of guys for coffee. And right there somehow, among people chatting about this or that, I prayed the prayer of salvation with these two brothers and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Again, my transformation wasn’t instant, but something was changing in me.
I spent a few years attending a pretty in-depth Bible study that just opened up my relationship with God. In that time, things still weren’t sunshine and kisses, life was still happening, and I was still feeling repercussions of who I was before. My wife left, my father died after a battle with cancer, but I was different, and I was dealing with things in a much healthier way. I can remember, at that time, I was studying the book of John, and I came to lean on the verse John 14:27 in that time frame, and that verse has come to be one that I cherish. It reads like this in the NIV, and this was Jesus speaking: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.
I got great comfort out of that verse. So much so that I wrote it on my arm to see as I tried to survive the World’s End 100k in 2019.
I’ve found that the more time I have spent reading the Bible, certain verses will speak to you and will feel like they were written just for you- and they were. Over time I felt compelled to teach Sunday school or get involved in youth in some way. I spent nine years as a youth leader after several false starts in getting involved in youth ministry. The guy that had the number 2 bar stool reserved for him at Rivals for a long time was a youth ministry leader. Another wow.
Along the way, God has taken me to many beautiful places and had me do things I never thought I would do. I’ve mentored students; I’ve led prayer; I’ve told my story; I’ve given spiritual talks to groups of men. I’ve been offered peace in situations where the world says I should have none.
I ran the largest marathon in the world for charity. You know, I was torn when it came down to deciding to run that marathon. I didn’t think I could do it. I questioned why I was doing it. I had lost my father to cancer, and I’m running for Dystonia, which I didn’t even know what it was, so why? So, I prayed. I consulted with Godly people I trust. I searched the scriptures.
Eventually, I came to Galatians 6:10, which reads, “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone–especially to those in the family of faith.” That sealed it. Then I was all in with complete peace.
So I ran and completed that marathon, and I thought my running days were over. I was cool with that- it was a challenging six months getting ready for it, so I was good with not running- but God had other plans. You see, while I thought I wasn’t going to run anymore, I kept having the urge to run again, so I did, and I ran, and I prayed a lot. And God dropped many people in my path that He wanted me to know and learn from, people like me who had problems with addiction. I felt I was supposed to be a part of that, but I didn’t know how to get there. I prayed about running a race to raise awareness and funds for those suffering from addiction, like myself. But I wasn’t sure if that was what God wanted me to do, so I continued to pray, seeking this answer.
I remember getting ready to run my first Hyner 25k, and I just had this feeling that God was going to reveal His next step in this journey to me during this race. So, as I ran that race, I prayed and prayed, seeking this next step, until I got too tired to pray. I finished the race, didn’t have an answer yet and was bummed because I felt confident my next step would be revealed, but it wasn’t.
The very next day, believe it or not, as I was recovering from this challenging race, laying on the couch, Sydney bursts into the house, saying Hannah wiped out on her scooter. Even as sore as I was, I leaped off the couch and went to Hannah, who had broken her front teeth out and fractured her wrist. We went to the emergency room- and that is when God confirmed my next step. As we checked in, a young man in his twenties was in a wheelchair talking with the lady at the front desk. He was trying to call home, but she couldn’t let him because it was a long-distance call. So, after we checked in, I allowed him to use my phone. He gave it back, and I went back with Hannah for x rays. While back there, my phone rang, and it was this kid’s mom calling. He was from Buffalo. As it turns out, he was in rehab for drug and alcohol problems and was trying to escape. That’s how God confirmed to me that He wanted me to run on behalf of those in addiction and seeking recovery. So, I ran, and I raised funds, and I prayed for those that donated during a 50-kilometer trail race, and while I was providing a blessing to others (or so I thought), I felt so incredibly blessed. It was incredible.
Since then, I have run maybe 15 more of these ultramarathon races, including finishing the world’s end 100k in 2019 and taking a DNF in the same race this year. Now heading into the Eastern States 100, my first 100 miler, I’ll be running on behalf of the Herren Project, a non-profit that supports those suffering from substance use disorder and their families. I have been fortunate to share the gospel through devotionals with other trail runners like you on top of mountains, just knowing that my job is to share the gospel by sharing my story and His word.
I’ve been a much better father and man than I ever would have been without a relationship with Christ and a life in sobriety. Don’t get me wrong, I am still far, far from being who I am supposed to be, and my life is still incredibly messy, but I have the freedom and confidence that I never had before and the knowledge that I am truly loved, no matter what.
What I hope that I am conveying to you is not anything about me. The message I hope you hear is that there is hope for anyone you know who may be suffering from any substance abuse or any other of the many addictions or “isms” out there. People do recover- never by themselves, but with the help of others. I know that is true because I am a living example of what can happen when you surrender and ask for help.