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HUNTINGTON - Todd Crandell has participated in 28 Ironman competitions across six continents and 15 countries.

His first Ironman was in 1999. Just six years earlier, he had been arrested for his third DUI after blowing a .36 at noon.

"I had lost everything," Crandell said. "I'm not talking possessions. I lost my family, my friends, hope, myself. I had no spirituality. I had no education, no job. When I got that DUI, I believe it was a gift from God and my dead mom."

So that day in 1993, Crandell quit a life of alcohol, cocaine and other drugs and eventually used his story to help others quit addiction by starting Racing for Recovery.

Crandell will be in Huntington on Monday, April 3, to tell his story on Marshall University's campus. He will speak from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday in room BE5 in the basement of the Memorial Student Center. The event is sponsored by the Student Health Education Program and the History Department. The event is free and open to the public.

Crandell said his story, professionally and personally, started with the suicide of his mother due to her drug and alcohol addiction when he was 3.

"My uncle also used and committed suicide, so as you can see, it ran rampant through my family," Crandell said. "I'm thankful to have stopped both."

Crandell's dad remarried, and he grew up in an upper middle class family. Just a "typical kid with every materialist thing," he said.

Hockey filled the void his mother's death left. He wanted to become a professional hockey player.

But at 13 while at a party, he decided to take his first drink of alcohol just to see what it tasted like.

"That was the spark that ignited a 13-year drug and alcohol frenzy," Crandell said. "That's the first word that comes to mind. It was a horrific 13-year lifestyle."

During his freshman and sophomore years of high school, he drank to the point of blacking out every weekend. By junior year, he was smoking pot and taking benzodiazepines and speed, "just adding more chemicals to the arsenal," he said. "I was in a daily addiction by age 16 or 17."

Crandell said he was to a point he would throw up pills in the toilet, reach in and take them again.

His senior year he tried cocaine.

"I was going to a hockey game on the school bus and I was doing a quarter ounce of cocaine in front of my classmates," he said.

He got caught and was kicked off the team, expelled from school and kicked out of the house.

From there, his life spiraled. He was living out of his car, doing crystal meth, pills and heroin. He was in and out of jail and was having suicidal thoughts - until he caught his final DUI charge.

He started running Ironman competitions in 1999. In 2001, after an Ironman in New Zealand, the local newspaper shared his story. Crandell said the response was so powerful, he knew he had to take the life he had led and start a program to help people.

Racing for Recovery's mission is to prevent all forms of substance abuse by promoting a lifestyle of fitness and health for those affected by addiction.

Crandell said he wants to show families, users and communities that sobriety is possible.

"I hope people will see recovery is possible," Crandell said. "Their lives are of value and worth saving, and families heal. I want the community to understand people using are not bad people; they are people who made bad choices. You can heal that hurt."

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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