How Two Runners Are Using Their Beloved Sport To Fight Drug Addiction

Oak City Recovery Run Club

The finish line of a long race is one of the most joyful places on the planet. Completing the task is an amazing feeling — amplified by the fact that it carries such a weight of history. You’re not just celebrating a one-day accomplishment, you’re basking in how far you’ve come. After months of hard work, the finish line is just the icing on the cake, the ultimate culmination of time spent pushing your limits, overcoming the obstacles, and finding the positivity through any and every challenge.

North Carolina natives Justin Garrity and Matt Elliott faced more than their share of obstacles in their respective quests to run half marathons. But when they did, when they crossed their own finish lines, their races were powerful symbols of hope that their lives were going to get better.

“It kind of meant everything,” Garrity, 30, tells me of running his first half marathon about a year after heroin addiction landed him in a homeless shelter. “I worked towards a goal of running this half at a fast pace. I’d done it with positive people in my life. And I was reconnecting with my family.”

Garrity’s struggles with addiction had caused estrangement from the people he loved most, his family. Then, a year after getting sober, he completed the Rock ‘N’ Roll half marathon in Raleigh. His mom ran at his side.

The race was a true “aha!” moment. He was about to move out of the shelter, had gotten a good job, and now, had regained his mother’s trust. Tapping into the power of running, he realized, had changed his life in incredibly positive ways.

“Getting out there and running,” he says. “That’s such a big part of my recovery.”

When Garrity met Matt Elliott, 32, who ended up in the same shelter/recovery program a few years later (the place where Garrity was now employed), he encouraged the newcomer to find help through the same tool. They began running together.

Oak City Recovery Run Club

For his part, Elliott had long straddled the thin line between social drinking and alcohol abuse. By the age of 17, he had been arrested twice for DWIs. In college, he prioritized partying and found it hard to get to classes. But lots of college kids drink too much, and plenty of people lose their way for a bit in their early 20s. He was easily able to convince himself that he didn’t have a problem. And for a while, he was able to convince other people of that too. He volunteered for AmeriCorps and Habitat for Humanity, finished for college, got a good job, and then got married.