Running For Their Lives
Denver Rescue Mission teammates ready for this weekend's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.
Denver Rescue Mission teammates ready for Sunday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.
Written by: Tracy Greenhalgh
Nearly twenty years separates them, but Denver Rescue Mission Marathon teammates Brett Tuttle and BJ Swenson share a profound bond: they’ve poured their hearts and soles into training for the upcoming Rock’n’Roll Denver Marathon after only seriously stepping into their Nikes to start running last November.
Even more amazing, both men bore the weight of long-term drug and alcohol addictions, which cost them nearly everything, leaving them homeless and desperate on the streets of Denver. This Sunday, Swenson and Tuttle, along with twenty-eight other Denver Rescue Mission (DRM) teammates, will run through the same streets that nearly ruined them.
When both men turned to the DRM for help, they got more than they expected at The Crossing, DRM’s faith-based transitional living and long-term rehabilitation facility: refuge, hope and most importantly, direction.
“Through the committed DRM staff and volunteers, I’ve discovered that every day we have a choice for the attitude we embrace,” says twenty-nine-year-old Swenson. “I thank God I’ve found my purpose and direction,” he says.
Forty-six-year-old Tuttle came to the DRM in the fall of 2007. “I was desperate. I made poor decisions and lost pieces of me,” Tuttle says of his alcohol abuse and its consequences.
“I ended up in a place no one wants to be,” says Tuttle, who graduated from the DRM New Life Program last May.“But, God is notorious for taking people who don’t think they can do something, and showing them they can overcome what they thought was impossible. I knew about the running program from Nick Sterner, the director of the AIR (Activity Inspired Rehabilitation) organization which trains the DRM Marathon Team.”
Sterner, himself a DRM program graduate, constantly coaxed Tuttle to join the team and just last November, Tuttle did join them, and also gave up his pack-a-day-cigarette habit.
“Brett’s an amazing guy,” says Swenson. “He’s in the minority of guys who’ve made it through the program, who haven’t relapsed into destructive patterns. He’s my role model. It’s because he’s stayed plugged in.” Tuttle will complete his associate degree from the Community College of Denver this spring and then transfer to Metro State College to earn his B.A. in Human Services.
“The staff and volunteers at DRM and the AIR organization constantly remind me how far I’ve come,” Tuttle says. “They’ve given up pieces of their lives to help us run these marathons.”
Swenson came to the DRM after a ten-year alcoholic blur, living a manipulative, cross-country “Catch Me If You Can” double-life. After his last bender, Swenson showed up last November at the DRM in desperation. One year later, BJ has discovered a passion and talent for running. He’ll start working toward his certificate in non-profit organization administration at Metro State in January and currently leads a running program for high-risk and homeless youth at Urban Peak through AIR.
Unlike Tuttle, Swenson decided to join the team right away. “The light went on and I knew it would be a way to change my destructive ways and accomplish my short-term goals, so I went for it,” says Swenson.
At first, both men struggled running even a few laps, but a couple of months into their training, Tuttle says: “BJ and I looked for a longer run and decided to head to the Auraria campus. We ran eighteen miles that day. It was uphill all the way back, the most grueling thing we’d ever done. BJ and I bonded through the pain. We encouraged each other all the way and were stronger after we finished.”
That particular run is actually a section of the Rock’n’Roll Denver Marathon, and they’ve trained on it since. “The memory of making it through that day still sticks with both of us,” say Tuttle and Swenson.
Since last November, Swenson and Tuttle have each run seven half marathons and one full marathon, including the Copper Mountain Half Marathon, the Horse Tooth Half Marathon, the Georgetown to Idaho Spring Half Marathon, the Denver Half Marathon, and the Colorado Marathon.
“Based on my other race times, I plan to finish the Rock’n’Roll Denver Marathon in about 3 hours and 45 minutes,” says Swenson. “I’m planning to push myself to run the Pike’s Peak Ascent half marathon next year. In the future, I want to run ultra-marathons.”
Tuttle also plans to keep running. “Running has given me the determination to stay the course and not give up,” he says. Tuttle’s resolve now equips him to mentor other men struggling with addictions. This resolve has also given him the vision to pursue a master’s degree in addiction counseling.
“I’ve learned if you don’t show up and start, you can’t finish – in running and in life,” says Tuttle.