Dodd finds sobriety and a marathon to be a perfect pair
As a runner and an alcoholic, Richard Dodd knows from excruciating experience what it's like to hit the wall, and to hit bottom.
Sober for five years, he has an evangelical zeal for both running and sobriety, a perfect match for his new job as the race director of the Adrenaline Marathon on the Eisenbahn Trail, a race in West Bend organized by the Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse of Washington County.
The council hired Dodd earlier this month.
"Richard has done a lot of work to get to where he is now," said Mary Simon, executive director of the AODA Council. "It sends an awesome message to the community; 'I made it through this and am giving back.' He gets what we're trying to accomplish."
Dodd, 53, grew up in Hales Corners and discovered his talent as an athlete running track and cross country at Whitnall High School (class of 1977). He clung to the success as an escape from an alcoholic father and frustrating family life.
He ran the 1979 Boston Marathon in 2 hours, 36 minutes, and the 1983 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon in 2:19:38. In the early to mid-80s, he and his twin brother, Peter, were two of the best distance runners in the state, just off Olympic-caliber pace.
Dodd held a steady job as a delivery driver and won awards coaching the cross-country and track teams at his alma matter.
But he drank as hard as he ran, and eventually the balance tipped to drinking.
"Looking back with five years of clarity, outward appearance seemed fine," Dodd said earlier this week. "But it was a big house of cards, waiting for a big gust of wind to blow it over."
That gust came in 2005, when his wife divorced him.
"A more prudent thing would have been to cut back on my drinking," he said. "Instead, I quit everything else, including running. Once the running stopped, I stopped caring. I gained 30 pounds and started drinking much more heavily."
Like a runner who has run out of energy and will midway through a race, Dodd fell apart.
He was arrested for drunken driving three times in seven months, lost his jobs and spent six months in the House of Correction.
"That last week I thought about how drunk I was going to get the day I got out, which I proceeded to do," Dodd said.
He shunned his family, and built fleeting friendships with fellow drunks he met in local taverns. When his mother died in December 2006, "I showed up drunk at her funeral," he said.
Still, Dodd had more ground to cover before reaching the bottom. One night in December 2007, homeless and staying in the Milwaukee Rescue Mission, he stood on a bridge over the Milwaukee River and prepared to jump.
Instead, he walked back to the shelter, borrowed money and continued to drink.
A few weeks later, his sister, Kathy, called and offered to help him get into the Teresa McGovern Center for treatment in Madison.
"For whatever reason, I had a moment of clarity and said, 'yes," Dodd said.
His recovery started with 80 days in detox, and continued through 15 months in the Rebos Chris Farley House, where his housemates encouraged him to run again. Short loops around Madison were a revelation, a return to his purpose, "reconnecting with what God wanted me to do in the first place."
Surgeries to correct atrial fibrillation in his heart and compartment syndrome in his legs slowed his progress, but Dodd matched his training miles with 12-step meetings, and maintained his sobriety and enthusiasm.
He won the Grandmaster Division in the 2011 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, turning in a terrific 3:03 time. And he found a way to share his wisdom and coaching experience, first in training a local runner with autism, Matt Kruger, then with an opportunity to coach the Hartford High School boy's cross-country team. He coached his first team in the fall.
"I just love being around runners and runners who want to improve," Dodd said.
The job coaching at Hartford led to the new role as the Eisenbahn Race Director, and the opportunity to serve a purpose he had shunned for too many years.
"I've been given a second chance," he said. "I spent a year thinking I wasn't going to see my 50th birthday, and didn't want to either.
"In the last four or five years, I've left my life to a power greater than me, and it's been working out," he said. "I have a 40-year passion for long-distance running and racing, and a four-year passion for AODA issues.
"Going back to my family, I know as well as anyone else how destructive those issues can be. I not only have a passion to make sure the marathon is a great event for the runners, but I have a great passion for the cause, to increase the amount raised and to help families.
"It's a natural extension of my sobriety to be further involved in a cause like this."
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