‘Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending’ ~ Maria Robinson
One of my favorite things about running is the people it brings into your life. I love the Gorgeous Relay guys (Blair Hook and Kerry Loehr) and have had a blast running their relay and getting to know them. They are good guys bringing people together to run, and I recently discovered that Kerry is my new inspiration. Kerry Loehr isn’t just a runner and race director, he’s also a member of The Anonymous Group. In street terms, he’s an addict in long-term recovery. With group runs and events finishing up at local pubs, I sat across from Kerry at numerous functions and had no clue he struggled with alcohol. I have an all new admiration for this guy, being clean and sober for nine years and sharing his story, in hopes of helping others. I’ve only known the endurance runner, Kerry Loehr, but his willingness to share his journey has me admiring this man with a whole new perspective. There are approximately 23 million people in this country in long-term recovery, so Kerry is far from alone, but addiction can be very lonely. His bravery to share is admirable, but I’m especially excited that running is such an integral piece of his recovery.
He actually started running in middle school after doing the timed mile in PE and a teacher told him he should go out for track. Like many kids, Kerry started drinking in high school. It wasn’t a big deal, he was young and experimenting. It didn’t hurt anyone and didn’t seem to affect his performance at Cleveland High School in Portland, where he ran track and cross county. His mom set a healthy running example growing up and Kerry even drove the van for her Hood to Coast team in high school. His running faded when he headed to Eugene and, like many young adults, his drinking escalated in college. He lived in a fraternity at the University of Oregon and drank, a lot and added a smoking habit on top of it. Eventually, the partying caught up with him. Always a good student in high school, his grades suffered. He decided to move back home, refocus and finish up at Portland State.
He continued to drink, often attended classes hung over and worked, of all places, at a bar. Through graduate school and early into his work life, drinking remained a constant. “I drank when I was happy. I drank when I was sad. I was a binge drinker. I didn’t drink every day, so I didn’t have a problem. I could stop….” This guy, who was once told he should go out for track because he showed talent, wasn’t running at all. Instead, he put on weight and wasn’t truly living.
The drinking ruined his career, hurt his family, strained friendships, to say the least, and cost a marriage. He finally came to the realization that he was going to die from this disease or kill someone else. He decided to get sober and, fortunately, it’s never too late. At one low point, he found himself on the couch so sick and hung over he couldn’t mow his lawn. Running was part of his recovery and he claims it literally helped save his life. It was hard and scary since he had allowed himself to get so out of shape and deconditioned, but slowly he re-discovered running and used it as a coping mechanism for stress, instead of alcohol or cigarettes. Newly sober, he decided to run a marathon.
Kerry started with Run Like Hell, then printed out a Hal Higdon training plan and ran the Eugene Marathon less than two years after getting sober. In ways, he traded his alcohol addiction for running and would discover the joys of endurance running, including plantar fasciitis. Injures plagued Kerry and he was forced to find balance, but two things remained constant. He was clean and sober and running got him there and it’s helped keep him there .He added another 3 marathons to his list and 6 ultra-marathons, including running Mt. Hood in a day (approximately 40 miles at 10,000 feet of elevation) and the Timberline to Cascade Locks Trail (approximately 50 miles at 6,000 feet of elevation).
That’s the Kerry I know, a guy who loves a challenge and encourages others to push their limits. I love that he has taken his love of running and shared it with others, offering the Gorgeous Relay Series and the Bend Marathon. It’s fun to see that he’s gone from driving the van for his mom’s Hood to Coast team to running endurance events to being a race director. Most of all, I love that this guy would risk his reputation to help others. Addiction is not a matter of willpower. People can change and there is help out there, Kerry Loehr is proof.
Kerry is an inspiration and I’m truly honored to call him a friend. To go from a smoker to an ultra-marathoner is impressive, but it’s his heart that has my admiration. He genuinely wants to help others, inspire others and make a difference. Running has made that possible. Look for this guy out on the trails or at one of his events and give him a shout out. He’ll be the one in the goofy looking Hokas. Nothing is impossible, it’s never too late and there are always people out there willing to help. Especially among the running community.