| Once he had run clear across the United States, but in July of 2004 Tom McGrath was in really bad shape. His doctors gave him only days to live: his alcohol use was killing him.
Born in 1950 in Northern Ireland, Tom had always been very athletic. He played Gaelic football, basketball as well as soccer, and he was a boxing champion. And most of all, he ran.
After coming to the United States in 1969, he ran from New York City to San Francisco in 1977, a distance of 3046 miles in 56 days. It got him into the Guinness Book of Records.
Other incredible running feats followed: in 1983 the Great Irish Run for the Mentally Handicapped, 630 miles solo in seven and a half days. A year later, Tom finished third in the US 100 mile championship. 1988-92 he did 1,000 mile solo runs once a year mostly for charity. He ran and ran.
But despite all the miles Tom was unable to run away from alcohol, and in the summer of 2004 his drinking finally caught up with him. “When you wake up in a hospital and you don’t remember going there, that is really, really sad,” he said.
Tom remembers how he would sometimes start a day of drinking at five o’clock in the morning. After his hospitalization he took the first steps toward recovery but it was not enough. He tried to stay sober but relapsed several times – “the brain hadn’t matured enough,” he says today.
It would take another six years and a car crash before Tom realized, “the alcohol will kill me if I don’t stop.” A court mandated his participation in an AA program and Tom has now been in recovery for over five years.
How was he able to do it? Mostly by running. Some New Yorker started calling him ‘Lazarus’ – the man who rose from the dead after beating alcoholism. And indeed, it was the spiritual quality of running that helped Tom beat his addiction. “I love to run hundreds and hundreds of miles,” he says, “I love to be alone, I love just listening to my body hum along the road.” He also loves to make brief stops at churches during his runs to give thanks to God.
Addiction Recovery is Spiritual in Nature
“The principles behind the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are spiritual in nature,” says Dr Kenneth Chance, D.Div., founder and CEO of Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, a rehab center for men in Prescott, Arizona. “When there is no alcohol, the alcoholic needs a power greater than themselves to feel connected and ‘okay’. Apparently meditating and praying while running has helped Mr. McGrath feel that sense of connection, calmness and well being. That’s the spiritual as well as mental and emotional recovery that many AA members have in common and why they achieve long-term recovery,” says Chance.
Dr Kenneth Chance presents Tues Nov 24, 2015 at 1pm EST at the International Recovery to Wellness Coaching Conference (IRWCC).
Running for Achilles Children’s Charity – Shoes for Children with Disabilities
And Tom is not just running, he is running to help children in need. Since his race against death in 2004, through his runs, Tom has provided more than 15,000 pairs of shoes for children with disabilities.
Perhaps his most unique run – which brought him local and national recognition – was the “Five Marathons in Five Boroughs in Five Days” run in New York City in 2013 which he undertook to support the Achilles Children’s Charity.
Back in New York, Tom continues to be surrounded by alcohol, he has owned the Black Sheep bar in Manhattan for 18 years now. Handling alcoholic beverages only reinforces his determination to stay sober, Tom told me, because he knows “the next fall could be the last.”
He’s 65 now and has no plans to stop running. “My AA is on the road,” he says. “Running saved my life.”