Pam Rickard has been running since the 1980’s and running sober since 2006
Pam Rickard is all smiles while running the 2019 Boston Marathon. (First photo)
Pam Rickard participated in a seven-day running adventure across China’s Gobi Desert in June 2012 in which she won her age group. (Second photo)
While some people would say Pam Rickard is addicted to running, she would disagree. Rickard, who runs about 2,000 miles a year, has been running since the 1980s and running sober since 2006.
“If I’m living in healthy recovery, I don’t use running in an unbalanced, unhealthy way. I appreciate it as a gift and a tool of healthy living,” Rickard said.
Rickard is director of Active Engagement for Herren Project, heading up Team Herren Project, engaging people to run, walk and participate in healthy activities, helping each other, and others, live stronger, healthier lives. She said she is grateful to be able to use her running, through her job, to raise awareness and funding for Herren Project’s mission, which includes providing prevention and addiction recovery resources and support for all affected by the disease.
In the 1980s and 1990s she graduated from Ohio University, started running, moved to Roanoke, Virginia to work for The Roanoke Times, married Tom Rickard and moved to Franklin County. As a runner, she has won races, earned best times in different age groups and completed seven marathons. Although drinking a lot during those years, she was high functioning and never drank while pregnant, nursing her children or seriously training.
After her third daughter was born in 2003, Rickard’s drinking escalated. In 2005-06, within 18 months, she received three DUIs.
“I know now that I was an alcoholic from the first drink at the age of 14,” said Rickard, who is now 58. “But as often the case with addiction, it’s progressive, but on its own timeline. In the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s, I appeared to have it all together; did well in school, married the love of my life who I met in college, was an accomplished member of the local running community, a successful professional and eventually, a devoted mom.”
She added, “In truth, I was anxious and fearful much of the time, self-medicating with alcohol, trying desperately to keep my struggles hidden. Over a very long period of time, I began spiraling out of control. I tried to ‘fix’ my problems myself, declined even the notion of asking for help, and ended up in a ‘perfect storm’ of arrogance and fear. I finally surrendered to my God and my disease when I entered addiction treatment on April 17, 2006 – and took my first steps into sobriety.”
She described her treatment at The Farley Center in Williamsburg in April and May of that year as scary and hard, but after only a few days, she said she felt better and hopeful. She had to listen and follow directions and was relieved to not have to “run the show” anymore. She quickly realized what she got out of treatment was what she put into it.
After pleading guilty to her third DUI, Rickard served three months in the Roanoke City Jail from Sept. 28 to Dec. 31, 2006. Rickard was five months sober when she went to jail. As hard as things got, she hung onto the fact that God and her sobriety could not be taken from her.
“My only plan was to survive. God had other plans though, and while I ended up having some very ugly experiences, I also connected with many women who were broken … not bad, just in an extremely unhealthy cycle that went back generations,” she said. “When I walked out of that jail, the seeds had been planted that would ultimately grow into my desire to help those fighting battles similar to mine.”
Rickard didn’t drive for three years after her conviction. She said she hated inconveniencing her family, but she learned invaluable lessons. As part of her treatment after care, she committed to attending 90 recovery meetings in 90 days.
“It was ridiculously challenging with no license and living in the country, but I did that, and more,” she said.
Running is what connected Rickard to Herren Project. Over a 35-plus year running career, she has completed numerous races, including more than 80 marathons and ultramarathons. Her races have included a seven-day adventure across China’s Gobi Desert and a 100k (62 miles) trek through the Alps from Italy to France. She was a member of the 2016, six-person Icebreaker Run team, running across the U.S. to bring awareness to mental health issues. She has run the New York City Marathon 10 times and the Boston Marathon 10 times, including the 2013 race in which she finished 20 minutes before the bombs went off.
Of all the races she’s done, the one that stands out the most is her 2007 New York City Marathon.
“That was my first sober marathon,” she said. “Then it was my 50th sober marathon in 2018. Without that desire to run one more marathon as a sober person, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I believe I would be right where I should be, but that experience opened up so many opportunities. It began to teach me the priceless truth that I don’t run to stay sober, I get to run because I am.”
For those who struggle or have struggled with substance use disorder, Rickard said, “I encourage myself, and others, to ask for help when you need it, offer help when you can, follow direction of those who have what you want and trust the process.”
Rickard added, “The fact that I can run at all now, let alone do it while building a community and helping others through the work of Herren Project, is a priceless gift.
“Whether it’s a 3-mile training run, or a major event, my mantra is, ‘I don’t have to run, I get to.’”
posted Thursday June 18th
by Leigh Prom