This badass conversation started on January 20th, 2023. “I’m no quitter”
A note Jon sent me when he didn’t answer my first 3 questions right away.
I told you I’d probably do this after my trail time yesterday but I ended up in the ER. I’m ok just bruised ribs. I jumped down from one big boulder onto another big boulder, both were moss covered and wet from rain. My legs went out from under me and I landed on my back with all my weight. Luckily I fell on the ribcage and not the spine but I was sure I heard a crack when I landed and walking/breathing was difficult. I’ve broken plenty of ribs over the years but I wanted an x-ray to check. I was also having some internal discomfort so they did a CT scan. I’m all good to go, but sore and will be for a while, based on past experience. It felt good not asking for pain killers to take home which in the past I definitely would have done.
How young are you on this day January 20, 2023?
I’m 61 years and 5 days young.
Can you share your biggest fear about turning 50?
Just knowing life is more than half over and what have I done? What’s my legacy? Will I make it to 60? I was convinced if I could just remain alive until my late 50’s I’d be able to retire and get my life together.
You remained alive until your late 50’s and into the beginning stages of 60. Is your life together?
That’s a super interesting question because I’m not sure how to define “together”. I managed to stay employed and retire right at the perfect time from a pension value perspective. We sold the big house and moved into an apartment for the time being. It doesn’t take much to make me content. I do my best to keep everything in life simple. My wife is much more complicated and knows she doesn’t necessarily like to keep things simple. If she’s not always happy is my life together? Can anyone always be happy? I’m kind of like Homer Simpson and I have the ability to be thinking about absolutely nothing on a regular basis.
With most of our life being focused on growth, expansion and more, what was the downsizing process like for you?
My wife kind of lead the charge on that move. She correctly knew we couldn’t be happy together in the house. It was humbling at times, but now I honestly love it. No maintenance, lawn, and property taxes. We can go where we want, when we want and have been taking advantage of that opportunity. I don’t think this will be our final home here on earth. Hopefully we can get another property we like. I don’t care about owning a big, fancy house anymore.
I’ve mentioned I like to keep things simple and I can’t say that enough.
If you can remember the day you turned 50, what were you honestly thinking about being that number?
Not trying to sound dramatic but this is a gut wrenching question. I have a pretty good memory but I have zero recollection of that day. Addiction is the main reason I don’t remember it. Feel free to dig into that subject if you want to, I’ll answer honestly, I don’t mind talking about it.
What do you remember about your 50th birthday? Who were you on that day ?
Sadly I don’t remember anything about my 50th birthday. I was a functioning addict who was a dependable employee for a large pharmaceutical company. I was also a crappy husband who was extra focused on feeding my addiction after work hours. I was lost in a fog at home and had the delusion that my marriage was ok, even though it was far from it. Blame goes both ways with marital problems. Mine was no exception, although I need to assume the lion’s share of the blame. I was also a person of faith that knew I was just a mess in reality. I weighed 230-240 pounds and had a hard time going up a flight of stairs. I was very, very unhealthy. I also had faith that God had bigger and better plans for me and if I could just get off the drugs. Life could work out if I did the right things.
When saying who I was, I should also say, I’m a father and a grandfather.
Since turning 50, how have you got your life together?
Right before turning 51 my first wife and I separated. Three and a half months later I went into drug rehab for the second time. The first time was in 2001. I got clean again in 2013 and six months later moved back home with my second wife who I love dearly. I got into taekwondo for a couple of years and the instructor challenged me to do a Spartan Race. At 52 years old I did my first at Palmerton then went out to Ohio and did a Super a couple of months later. I was hooked. There were no age group awards back then in 2014, you either ran open or elite. After a year of running open and working very hard on fitness I started running elite. I never stood a chance to win an elite masters race but I had fun competing and met so many cool people. By the time I was 55, I got a little tired of some of the BS associated with Spartan. I decided I wanted to try Ironman Racing, even though I really didn’t know how to swim. To date I have completed five full Ironman races and five half Ironman races, along with some shorter triathlons. I think I’m done with Ironman racing because I’ve lost two friends to bicycle accidents and almost lost a third a couple of months ago. Fortunately he survived but has a long road to recovery ahead of him. Doing 45-50mph flying downhill on a race bike is fun but I’ve decided it’s not the right thing for me to do anymore after lengthy conversations with family. I retired on 7/31/21 at 59 1/2 years old. I spend a lot of time training because I decided to get back into Spartan Racing and still do Ironman races. Having so much time to train allowed me to have a really good season racing in the 60-64 age group. The decision to quit Ironman is very recent. Absolutely none of what I’ve done would have been possible if I was an active addict or without the full support of my wife.
“I really didn’t know how to swim”. Can you talk about that process. That feels like a hard stop for most people. How did you overcome and attack that problem?
It’s funny, because I really didn’t know how to swim. I always felt if I fell overboard I could save myself, but that was about it. In July of 2017, I went online and registered for a local sprint triathlon in early September and a Half Ironman in mid October. I bought a road bike and road like a madman for a month. I went to the pool at the YMCA by myself in the middle of August. I couldn’t swim one single 25 yard length of the pool. A half Ironman starts with a 1.2 mile swim. I hired a coach from the club to give me individual lessons and I struggled. I went to the sprint in September and I almost drowned. I was the last swimmer out of the water in a 400 yard swim. My wetsuit felt like it was choking me and I was panicking the whole time. But I finished. In October one of the awesome leaders of the club invited me to a lake to practice before my half Ironman. His name is Don Mack and I’ve never met a more giving, selfless athlete. I was out in this lake way, over my head, seriously ready to cry. I was struggling, the wetsuit was too tight and I was freaking out. I tried to grab the Don but he wouldn’t let me. He informed me that I really didn’t need to do the race in North Carolina. It probably wasn’t a good idea. I said I was doing it no matter what. Don lent me his wetsuit. He’s a lot taller than me but it was nice having a suit not choke me. He also gave me Tri-Slide spray so the suit would slide around my neck which was so much better. North Carolina 70.3 is known for it’s downstream swim. I started panicking with swimmers all around me hitting me and kicking me. I was done, I was going to raise my hand and tap out. Then I thought about Gage. I can’t quit. I just started swimming. My mind went blank and I just breathed and used the stroke I learned. That swim is still the thing I’m most proud of Ironman wise. I’ve done the full 2.4 mile swims multiple times now, but that one was special. I was so happy and proud of myself.
I’m not often proud of myself, but I was that day.
Do you mind sharing what you were you addicted to?
I was a product of the 70’s who did most of the drugs available to me even though I was a wrestler. I liked to party. I quit all of that nonsense in 1982 but in 1983 I had a horrible motorcycle accident and was introduced to the wonderful world of prescription opiates. I basically lived on painkillers for 30+ years. I could manage to stop for a few days or a week here or there but I always found myself back at the Dr’s office. I had a couple of Dr’s who would give me what I wanted, when I wanted it, including one of the surgeons that put my body back together after my accident. He told me I’d probably be on pain killers my whole life which was exactly what I wanted to hear. In 2010 I convinced my family doctor I needed something stronger so he put me on the Fentanyl patch. You were supposed to keep a patch on for three days but I would put a new one on in two days while still wearing the other one. Before that it was all about Percocet and Vicodin. That’s why I don’t remember my 50th birthday. Fentanyl is nasty stuff as most of the world now knows. Something I’m ashamed of now is that I always saw myself somehow better than street addicts. I had a nice house, a great job, and I wasn’t breaking the law buying drugs. It was all legal. The fact of the matter is that I was DUI every time I got behind the wheel, even with my family in the car.
I was a criminal that managed to get away with breaking the law basically every day for over 30 years.
I had some minor accidents and some other close calls but never got caught by the police or insurance companies. I’m very happy to be clean and it’s hard to explain to non addicts how great it feels.
“I’m very happy to be clean and it’s hard to explain to non addicts how great it feels.” I believe it’s really important that anyone reading this, and is struggling with addiction understands the other side. Could you try to explain it?
As I think about this question the one word that comes to mind is freedom. Addiction is captivity, spiritually, physically, emotionally, along with many other forms. The list is endless. I’m free from all of that. I don’t need to wake up with a couple of pills to get going for the day. I don’t need to worry about running out of pills or getting into to see a doctor late on a Friday just to get drugs. I’m not afraid of getting pulled over for a traffic violation and the officer might think I’m high. If I see a DUI checkpoint I smile knowing I’m good. I don’t have to worry about my wife looking into my eyes and knowing I’m high. I’m free to do what I want, to achieve amazing goals, to be successful in relationships and in life. I’m actually happy, not high and fake happy. I’m free from withdrawal symptoms. I fooled a lot of people for a lot of years but I wasn’t fooling my wife and immediate family. They knew and I knew I was letting them down over and over again. I was a captive, now I’m free and my family is beyond proud of me. It’s a great feeling.
I hear a lot of accountability when you describe the Jon you and everyone else had to live with. How did you learn to own it ?
I mentioned earlier that I went into rehab for the first time in 2001. In rehab the second time in 2013 I learned about how addicts brains are different from non addicts and how dopamine and pleasure receptors in our brains affect us differently. I buy into the disease fact of addiction. The aspect that once I’m in active addiction I’ve given up my choices. When I was in active addiction the choice was to use or be sick, sometimes very, very physically sick. That really isn’t a choice in my opinion. I’m taking the drug every time. Been there, done that a thousand times.
BUT when I’m clean and start using again, I have to own the emotional choice based on feeling like I need an escape from something that happened or is happening.
I take blame for the times I’ve done that. I knew I had other choices to help me deal but I’d choose the drug. I’ve always said that no doctor ever came knocking at my door to give me a script. I went to them, I asked. I got started again and chose to go back down that dark, deadly path and give up my freedom. I ran back to back Spartan Beasts, in the Sunday race a Spartan friend who is a trauma surgeon stayed with me the whole race. We talked, I brought up being in recovery and everything I’d been through. He said doctors need to own some of those problems. I’ve always pretty much blamed myself. No one ever forced me to take drugs once my surgeries were done and the pain was over.
I find it interesting that a pain killers job is to relieve pain and suffering, but in reality they can cause everyone around the user pain and suffering. Can you reflect on that?
Yeah maybe they should call them pain causers instead of pain killers. But we’re back to the ownership part of it. Who/what caused my family so much pain and suffering. Was it the drug or was it me ? Medicine has a legitimate purpose. If we paid attention we know that drug companies and doctors have played and still play a huge roll in the addiction epidemic in our country, particularly opiates. Although I do think currently a lot of it is manufactured illegally but it wasn’t always that way. Greed caused a lot of the problems.
When I think about the pain my loved ones went through because of my addiction to pain killers, it still devastates me if I dwell on it.
All I could do is get clean, get better, and move forward and not fall back into the pit. They are happy and amazed at the many changes I’ve made and that’s all I can do. I just have to do the next right thing minute by minute, day by day.
I’m adding this note in full disclosure because one of the freedoms I have is the ability to be honest. I don’t go to NA meetings anymore because I felt that the insanity in my area meetings was doing me more harm than good. I’d certainly never recommend that to another addict seeking recovery.
For me the trails, training, races and my friends have become my meetings. I feel better than I ever have in my entire life.
Jon, thank you for answering these questions and giving anyone who might be struggling with addiction some light and hope.
I’m happy to help anyone that is struggling and willing to talk to anyone in person who needs help. I just want to say, in my case, I just needed to detox and get that crap out of my system. Get to a meeting and connect with the right people. I just want anyone to know that in my experience it didn’t take a full 30+ days in rehab. If you need the full 30 day treatment by all means listen to the folks that work at the rehab.
Can you tell us who Gage is?
Gage: I’m so happy you asked me this question. I did a video for a couple of companies and this question was supposed to come up but we “ran out of time”.
I started Spartan racing in 2014, fell in love and also added some 13.1s , 26.2 and other stuff here or there. By early 2015 the medals started to accumulate and my wife asked me if I was racing for medals. She thought possibly the actual medals were important to me but they weren’t. I heard about a program called IRun4Michael where you can choose to give your medals to someone that can’t run for themselves. It’s actually a very vast program and I’ve heard of runners that have had to wait up to a year to get matched. Fortunately there are a lot of runners looking to participate in this program. It took me a couple of months and on the way to the Tuxedo New York Sprint weekend in early June 2015 I got notified that I was matched with someone. I was put in touch with his mom Jennifer and we actually got to speak before Saturday’s race and it just felt like a perfect match.
Gage had an ultra rare disease called NGLY1 which left him in a wheelchair for life and non verbal. The thing about ultra rare diseases is that they don’t get the attention and funding other diseases get. Gage has the perfect family and Jennifer and her husband Greg did an amazing job giving him his best possible life. In 2016 my wife and I drove out to Chicago for a Spartan Race and got to meet them in person. What an amazing weekend.
I ran the Super and Spartan allowed me to carry Gage over the fire jump and across the finish line.
On Sunday I did the Sprint with Greg, Jennifer, their son Taylor and his girlfriend, who is now his wife. Jaci stayed with Gage during the race which was a wonderful experience for her. A great relationship was being built and developed more and more over the years. Gage was accumulating quite a collection of medals and it gave me great purpose and the will to never quit when the going got tough. You think races can be tough?
No Gage had it tough and he had the courage to live and smile every day.
It drove me. I don’t think I would’ve finished the Killington UB in 2016 if it wasn’t for Gage. The DNF rate was incredibly high.
In 2018 I did my first 140.6 Ironman in Chattanooga and Gage was at the finish area waiting for me. They also came to Ironman Louisville in 2019 and at both races I got to see them a few times during the race and at the finish. I got to put the medals around Gage’s neck instead of using UPS which was just an amazing experience. Greg and Jennifer started doing triathlons and even did a half Ironman. They’ve done triathlons with Gage, towing him in a raft during the swim, towing him in a cart on the bike and pushing him on the run.
I racked up a lot of races from 2015-2021 and was so looking forward to 2022 and being the new kid in the 60+ age group at Spartan Races. I thought I had a shot at some podiums and really wanted to send him some gold. I had one or two from other races but as I mentioned before I ran Elite since there was no Age Group awards hence no Spartan podiums for me until 2022. Gage passed away in April of 2022 at the age of 22. A very bittersweet time, he will be so missed by his family and anyone that knew him, but his suffering is over. I truly believe God has a special place and love for special people like Gage. I believe he’s in heaven happy and running around smiling with Jesus. I miss him and I miss running with him.
I always said he ran WITH me, and pushed me.
I am deeply sorry for the loss of your friend Gage. What is the biggest lesson you carry WITH you from him ?
Perseverance without a doubt. Seeing and knowing what he had to go through, the surgeries, and doing it with a smile. Scott, as an endurance athlete yourself who has done amazing things you know what that deep, dark place that we find ourselves in sometimes is like. I’m sorry if I’m being presumptuous but I think I’m safe in saying that. Having Gage with me in my heart and mind has kept me going many times. JON wanted to quit but when I listened to Gage in my heart I couldn’t. He’s always been there for me and I believe always will be.
I love that you said JON wanted to quit. Can you explain that part of you that is the quit voice? Who is that JON?
That JON feels like he doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone including myself which is of course false. I still have plenty I want to prove to myself, I just have to get my head wrapped around some of the things I’d like to work my way up to. I had a goal to do back to back (Saturday and Sunday) Beasts at Killington and did it in 2015 and managed to do that with Sunday being the “Best Race Ever” with our good friend Rob who put a beatdown on me on Saturday. Then in 2016 I wanted to do New Jersey Ultra followed by the Beast on Sunday which I did. Then my goal was Killington Ultra Beast 2016 which I managed to finish. It was around that time that I watched the Ironman world championship in Kona and knew I had to try doing an Ironman if I could learn to swim properly and I did five of those.
I mentioned these things because almost every race including the shorter ones in between had points when JON wanted to quit. Even sprints I would think “what’s the point here, why push it?” It’s all mental for me, it’s not very often that my body fails me. I take it as mental weakness and I don’t like that JON at all. I makes me really angry, and pissed off at myself. I call myself every name in the book when that JON comes out. The weak JON.
I think about Gage and honestly my competitive nature also surfaces. “I’m no quitter” even though I think I easily could be.
I take pride that I’ve never DNF a race but that’s BS too. That simply means I haven’t pushed myself to the point where I’m unable to go on. I’ve read enough from people that have DNF to know that I need to find that place. And I don’t mean just go sign up for something I’ve never done and am unprepared for. I need to be ready and to train to where I’m ready for whatever the challenge is. I know you did Moab but honestly I didn’t know very much about it. Now I have two friends that I train with looking at Moab in 2024. I have no plans to attempt it in 2024 because I’ve never done over 32 miles on my feet which was at Killington 2016. I’m not counting Ironman races. It’s apples and oranges. I think I need to do at least one 100 mile trail race before I even think about anything longer than that. My 2023 is completely booked with races so I won’t be training for anything more than 50K. As for Moab I can’t wrap my head around not sleeping or sleeping for a few minutes in the dirt. There’s that JON again.
You are not being presumptuous. I know that deep dark place on and off the trail. I have personally found it the path to my light. Does that thought resonate or mean anything to you?
It does. I might word it differently but it does. The only way to achieve freedom for me was to get through that deep dark place from an addict perspective. At a race the only way to the finish line is through that place. The only way to achieve that smile at the top of the death march at Killington is to go through whatever it takes to get there. The only way for me to achieve freedom from addiction was to first detox. I’ll be happy to call it my light to freedom. I see that glimmer and know deep inside it gets brighter and leads to freedom.
You said ” The trails, training, races, and my friends have become my meetings. I feel better than I ever have in my entire life.” I sometimes feel like the perception of doing extreme physical activity is seen to be a bit one dimensional. Ego driven, superficial, vanity type A bullshit. I have found it to be a healing process. I hear healing in your words, is that true?
Absolutely it’s healing for me. We all have our own stories and I’m sure there’s a mix of everything in there including type A bullshit. I know people that have said “I don’t have a story I just love this stuff”. One dimensional maybe, but my wife comes to 90% of my races and volunteers. It’s a team effort. It took me a little while to think about and appreciate freedom from opiates. In the beginning I just wasn’t using but eventually you get thinking about it and for me I just cried. I cried tears of happiness and gratitude. Yes, healing begins as more and more time goes by and I kept doing the right thing minute by minute, day by day, week by week. It’s definitely a process and I can’t let my guard down.
More than once I’ve cried on the trail and on my bike during an Ironman race.
I’m so grateful I get to do this stuff that it can break me down, but in a good way. I’m doing things that I never dreamed of during active addiction. The thought of losing my freedom and the ability to do what I love doing sends shivers down my spine. Talking with my friends after a race and making new friends is also part of the healing. It’s an honor to be able to stand there with these badass people and chat after a race is over. I gravitate towards the 50+ 60+ crowd after the race but I’ve made amazing friends of all ages. It’s fun to be able to reach a podium spot but it really doesn’t matter in the big picture. I don’t care what someone’s time was, if you’re 50+ and do this stuff I want to talk with you. I have so much respect for the crowd. So for me it’s a privilege I don’t ever want to lose.
I just want to acknowledge I know that cry. I have experienced it in training runs, in races and at finish lines. It comes from a deep place for me. The reality is we are going to lose this privilege at some point. Is that something that secretly or not so secretly drives you to keep pushing yourself?
From a Spartan Racing competitive age group perspective it definitely drives me. The window for me will be small competitively in the 60+ AG. Notice I say 60+ because that’s the end of the line , there is no 65-69, 70-74. I was the “kid” in the 60+ in 2022 and I took advantage of it. I did 5 trifectas last year and hit the podium 14 times including once at a Savage Race. Now I have to train harder if I want to compete and I plan to do that. I don’t believe they’ll ever create an older AG in competitive because the numbers just aren’t there. I hate to say it but Spartan is correct to cap it at 60+. My master plan was to do Ironman races until I’m 80 years old because there are usually zero 80 year olds and I could win my age group and qualify for Kona if I could just finish a race. I also thought I could swim and bike for a long, long time but I’m done riding my bike competitively because it just isn’t safe. So I’m eyeing Deka and trail running but I don’t plan to quit doing OCR any time soon. I will do it until I can’t and plan to ease into the open heats once I’m no longer competitive. I have no idea at what age I’ll have to hang it up. Right now I can’t wrap my head around that one.
If 61 year young Jon could sit down and chat with 21 year old Jon what would you say to yourself?
Of course there’s the obvious like “don’t buy the motorcycle”, “don’t take the pills unless you really, really hurt”. I think there’s so much we all have to go through to grow and become more wise so it’s hard to say. This won’t go over big with a lot of people but in my 50’s I realized God expected me to live a certain way, and once I started to TRY to do God’s will my life got better. I wish I would’ve done that my entire life but I didn’t. Yes I mean “that” God. My dad was a very strict minister at a small, not mainstream church and preached against the big organized religions. I haven’t been inside a church unless it was for a wedding or funeral for 5-10 years but I try to read the bible and pray regularly. I also believe God allowed me to live not to preach but to live by example so I’ll shut up about it here. I respect everyone’s right to hold their own beliefs whether I agree or not. This is America you believe what you choose to believe. I would also tell 21 year old Jon to be compassionate and understanding with everyone you meet. You have no idea what someone is going through and they deserve compassion and love.
Also be generous, life isn’t all about YOU.
I would tell my 21 year old self to listen to other people and not be so self focused/centered during face to face conversations. Once at work I had a conversation in the cafeteria with someone I hadn’t seen in a long time. When I got back to my desk I realized the whole conversation revolved around me and what was going on with me. I looked her number up in the directory, called her and apologized. It also gave us the chance to talk about her and her career. It’s something I’ve always consciously tried to work on since that day. I’d rather know how you’re doing than talk about myself. I already know how I’m doing. I was in my 40’s when that happened and it really was an awakening for me.
What advice would you give someone turning 50?
You’ve probably worked very hard to get to 50 successfully so stay focused because it’s all about to pay off. Be patient. Take care of your health because without it you’ve got nothing. Eliminate debt. Be careful with your relationships and listen to the people close to you and by that I mean hear them, not obey them. Seriously use the wisdom you’ve earned and be patient with everything.
I’m going to offer you 3 words. Please tell me what they mean to you after 61 years on this planet.
Fear? Hmmm. I believe we all have different things that cause us to feel fear, and everyone’s fear has validity for that individual. Fear is something I have to fight through in some instances and it means surrender in other instances. I fear for my adult children and grandchildren but I have to surrender that I can’t control them as individuals. There are so many types of fear it’s hard for me to answer in a general sense without getting very specific, but I definitely have fears and it’s a wonderful experience when I can overcome something that I was previously afraid of.
One of my fears and maybe my biggest fear is a return to active addiction.
The thought sends shivers down my spine. I literally shake when I think about it. I also fear being misunderstood, but I’ve learned to not care so much about it anymore.
Here’s where I have to say my dad played a big part of molding my thought process. I learned good things from my dad but he was so very narrow minded and everything was black and white with no middle ground. I was taught joy is different from happiness and joy is much deeper and can only be achieved by a personal relationship with God/Jesus. I’m not saying that’s correct or incorrect because I really don’t know. How can I judge whether someone else has true joy or not ? I can’t and wouldn’t try to.
I experience joy when I’m out in nature whether racing, training, or just out there for the fun of it.
I can be in a canoe bass fishing, sitting on the beach, watching the sunset or sunrise, and many other things. That gives me joy. Being in love with my wife gives me joy, even if we’re going through a struggle we know we belong together. My spiritual beliefs give me joy and assurance.
To me gratitude is like deep thankfulness. It often includes other people and opportunities given. There are so many people I feel gratitude towards I can’t begin to list them. A part of the recovery process is writing gratitude lists and it’s probably a good idea for everyone to write one to keep us in touch with how many good things and people we have in our life.
I’m so grateful to be alive and to be given the opportunities I’ve been given.
*Jon recently registered for two wrestling tournaments. One on April 1st and another one on the 15th. He was dedicated to working harder and he knew he wanted to do some things differently but he didn’t see this coming. Whatever happens, Jon is pinning fear and “I can do that” to the mat.
Jon Crosby, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Spartan, Ironman, Believer and Wrestler
follow him @ https://www.facebook.com/jon.crosby.739