In the long run, he remains dedicated to a renewed purpose
ROCHESTER — The final mile was the most emotional in a life-changing run for Rochester resident Graham Correia.
He was running Sunday, March 13 on North Avenue in town, the road where his parents live and a route he had traveled many times before.
But the journey he took on that road differed profoundly. He was taking the final steps in a trek that began Jan. 1, brought him across the country and led him, he hopes, to a fresh start in life.
As he traveled on the familiar road, he broke down. “I’ve run this so many times but this time was different,’’ he said. “It felt surreal.’
A months-long cross-country trip would challenge even the most seasoned runner. But for Correia, the run signaled his return in a huge way to a sport he once loved, but gave up when he spiraled into addiction.
Where he once routinely covered 50, 60, even 100 miles at a stretch, his runs became replaced by a descent into drug and alcohol abuse.
“I was hopeless,’’ Correia has said. “I was going to die.’’
At a low ebb last fall, he moved to Colorado to stay with a friend. The friend suggested he return to running and Correia rebuilt his stamina, slowly and deliberately, in the thin Rocky Mountain air.
At the encouragement of his friend and with support from a therapist, he decided to return home to Massachusetts.
But he wouldn’t hop on a plane.
Instead, he would lean on his renewed passion for running. He decided to run across the country to his former home, and, he hoped, a new life.
He decided to make the adventure for two reasons. He hoped his experience would raise awareness for the Herren Project, a national nonprofit organization that provides free resources and support for treatment, recovery and prevention of substance abuse.
He also hoped the run would inspire him to reach deeper into himself and experience emotional and physical growth as he continues his recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.
Starting around the first of the year, he ran about 2,000 miles, starting in Colorado and then on to Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Louisville, Ky. and the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia.
He then crossed into Pennsylvania and ran into Manhattan. From there, his final route took him into Connecticut, Rhode Island, then home to Rochester.
As he had hoped, the experience brought a new perspective. “It allowed me to look at big things as little things,’’ he said.
He used to do the reverse, he said. The new attitude, he said, is “not so scary.’’
Correia didn’t arrive home without fanfare. Dozens of people cheered him on his return, exchanging hugs and well wishes.
“He’s an inspiration,’’ said his long-time friend Jennifer Szabo.
His childhood friend Monyca Vickers, who now lives in Freetown, ran the last four miles of the run alongside Correia.
She is also in recovery, she said, and was inspired by his effort. “It was amazing,’’ she said.
His friend of 15 years, Mark Cullings, traveled from Hingham to greet his friend.
“He’s got a lot to give,’’ Cullings said of Correia. “He draws people to him with this message he’s delivering.’’
He believes Correia’s run showed the importance of being true to yourself. “We all have something to give,’’ he said of the motivation he shared.
Correia mother, Robin Correia, said she was “elated, relieved and happy he’s home.’’
Her son will stay with her as he eases back into life.
She said she has “a little trepidation’’ about what the next few days might bring. Support will be there, she noted, from his family and friends .
“But support can’t be enablement,’’ she said.
The last 2 ½ months has brought “blood, sweat and tears’’ both for Correia and those who love him, she said.
“We all fall down,’’ she said. And based on the crowd that greeted him Sunday, he has plenty of support in his race to stay standing.