Staying The Course

By Dick Beardsley

Staying The Course

Staying The Course, as a boy growing up in Minnesota my whole world revolved around hunting, fishing, trapping, and milking cows. My parents loved me and my two younger sisters but they were alcoholics. I remember thinking “Boy that’s not going to be me when I grow up”. I didn’t smoke, drink, or do any kind of illicit drugs! I’m a loving husband to my wife Jill, a loving Dad to our boys Matthew, Christopher, and Andrew, and I’m a drug addict.

Growing up in a small town where everyone knew everybody I felt like I really didn’t fit in. I was shy but once I hit my junior year of high school, girls started to interest me but I could hardly say hi to one let alone actually ask one out on a date!

I noticed many guys who were in sports had girls all around them so I thought that was my key to getting a date. I went out for football, Big Mistake! I got gang tackled the first day and after I fought my way out of that pile of guys I said to myself “There’s not a girl alive that is worth going through this!” and I quit! My whole football career lasted 45 minutes! As I would find out later in life sometimes what seem to be our biggest failures turn out to be our greatest successes!

I went out for the cross-country. I’d never run competitively but once I found out there was no tackling involved I thought how hard can it be? The first day of practice our coach had us do the “around the block” run and I failed miserably!

Their “around the block” was 3.2 miles long, I had to walk the last mile! When I got back to the parking lot all my teammates and coach had gone home! Something magical happened when I crossed that imaginary finish line! I thought if I do everything my coaches tell me to do maybe I could make the varsity team, earn my letter jacket and get the date with a girl! I didn’t make the varsity squad that first season but I trained real hard the following summer and my senior year of cross-country I not only made the team, I was the best runner on it! We didn’t have a very good team but it showed me that if you really believe in something and are willing to work for it the sky’s the limit!

Never in my wildest dreams though did I ever think that 7 years later I would be standing on the front row getting ready for the greatest foot race in the world, the Boston Marathon! On that front row was world marathon record holder Alberto Salazar, four time winner of the Boston Marathon Bill Rodgers, and many Olympians and world class athletes. I was feeling confident but at the same time having some doubts also. As the race proceeded towards Boston, the pack of runners I was with got smaller and smaller until we got to the 17 mile mark and there were two runners left in the lead group, world record holder Salazar and as the Boston Globe Newspaper had dubbed me the day before, Dick Beardsley the country bumpkin from Minnesota!

I was in the lead but Alberto was right off my left hip. Every up and downhill I surged and tried to pull away but he never moved from my left hip. After coming down the last big hill at 21.5 miles I could no longer feel my legs, the thought of having to run 5 more miles at the pace we were running was making me sick to my stomach. I had opened up a few meters on Salazar and I thought “Ok Dick, you need to push like never before!” As I pushed off with my right leg to give one last hard surge I got the biggest charley horse
in my right hamstring!

Salazar went flying by me like I was standing still, 5 meters, then 10, 20, at one point he had almost a 100 meter lead! But I learned so much about myself those last 2 minutes of that race that it would later help me through much more difficult times in my life. What I learned that day 31+ years ago is that no matter how difficult the situation you’re in is, no matter how high that so called mountain is to climb, is that you never ever give up! Even if you have to take teeny weeny baby steps, as long you’re going towards that so called finish line there is always that hope! It’s about having faith, commitment, desire, believing in yourself, it’s about being in the right place at the right time! My right place at the right time was a big pothole I didn’t see. It made me stumble and when I did I snapped the knot right out of my hamstring! I got my stride back and went after Salazar and caught him with 100 meters left to go! Now after running over 26 miles it now came down to a 100 meter sprint! We both broke the American and Boston course records, Alberto won the race in 2 hours 8 minutes and 51 seconds and I was second in 2 hours 8 minutes and 52.6 seconds.

Even though I did not win the race, life was good. I got to compete around the world and signed a sponsorship with the New Balance Shoe Company.

I retired from competitive running in 1988 and moved back to my Minnesota dairy farm ready to raise a bunch of kids, milk a bunch of cows, and life was going to be grand, and it was until November 13, 1989.

That was the day I got in a hurry and got careless and my left leg got caught in a grain auger. I survived but had broken all the ribs on my right side, punctured my lung, broke my right arm, had a piece of steel stuck in my chest and my left leg almost got torn off! I had incredible doctors, nurses, people I didn’t know, the good Lord, and a will to survive!

I eventually was back milking cows and running. Over the next few years things took another turn. A lady ran a stop sign and totaled my car. I was in the hospital for weeks and had major back/spinal surgery.

I recovered and I was running and got hit by a car, more surgery, then months later I was hiking and the ground gave way and I fell off a cliff! More surgery, more narcotics and then the worst part of all, I became addicted!

Never in my wildest of dreams did I think it could happen to me! Over the years people have always made excuses for my addiction, it’s the doctor’s fault, how could you not become addicted after all those accidents and surgeries. Never once have I ever blamed anyone other than myself! I started to doctor shop, then when I couldn’t find any more doctors to give me a prescription I started to forge my own!

I’d never been in any trouble in my life; I had never stolen as much as a piece of bubble gum! I knew I could lose everything I had ever worked for, I could go to prison, but all that mattered was to get the drugs, take the drugs, and make sure I didn’t get caught!

By August of 1996 I was taking a cocktail of Demerol, Percocet, and Valium 80-90 pills a day!

Thankfully before I died I got caught and I knew the only chance I had to get better if there was any chance at all was to take 100% responsibility.

After meeting with federal drug agents I was taken to a hospital where I was locked up in the psychiatric ward for 10 days. I was put on methadone, I became addicted to that. They tried to wean me off of it and the withdrawals were so bad I thought I was going to die!

They put me back on it, tried to wean me off slower, the second time was even worse, and then they put me on it a third time and sent me home. The withdrawals were the worst! I couldn’t eat or sleep!

I checked into the University of Minnesota treatment hospital. The withdrawals were so bad and I had pain in the bones of my arms and legs, I can honestly say that if I would have had a saw in my room I would have considered sawing them off as it would have had to felt better!

When it was time to get up and get dressed it was a struggle just to get my feet on the outside of the bed. I never missed a meeting with my group to try and learn how to get better. There were mornings I was so sick I could not walk. I had to crawl on my hands and knees like a dog. One morning I’m crawling on the floor in the hall and I blacked out. I have no Idea how long I laid there, but when I woke up I was laying in my own vomit. I remember looking up and saying “please God, either just take me or please get me better”. That night for the first time in over a week I slept just a little bit more, the next night more, and after being there for 21 days I started feeling what it was like to be me without the drugs in my system and I liked how it made me feel!

Has it been easy? Nope. It’s been without doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do but it has been worth every ounce of energy I’ve put into it. The last 16+ years of sobriety have been without doubt the best 16+ years I’ve ever have! As you read this I wish I could guarantee that 24 hours from now I will be sober, I can’t make that promise because I don’t know what will happen between now and then but this is what I can promise, as I’m writing this right now. I’m as sober as a person can be and that’s what matters! They say take it “one day at a time”. There were times I took it one minute at a time! Don’t ever give up hope; don’t ever think for a second no matter how bad it is that you can’t get better because I know you can! It won’t be easy but it will be your greatest success story ever!

Dick Beardsley – Motivational Inspirational Speaker, Author, World Class Marathon Runner, Addiction/Dependency Survivor.