Swimming Into the Sun: A Recovering Alcoholic Shares His Story
by Phillippe Diederich
Bryan Andrews can recall the exact moment when he hit rock bottom. “I was coming out of the gym after working out. Suddenly I just stood there in the parking lot screaming for help,” Andrews says, “I wanted to die.”
Andrews, 29, is an alcoholic. He says his father was also an alcoholic, who left the family for alcohol and drugs when Andrews was 9 years old. “I grew up poor. I was physically abused,” he says. He dropped out of high school in his junior year. But he says it had little to do with drinking. Andrews wanted to work. “I always worked,” he says despite the fact that he had been drinking since he was nine, and that by the time he was sixteen he was a serious drinker. “Jägermeister and Bud Lite,” he says remembering his preferred drink in those days.
At the time, Andrews did not believe he had a drinking problem because he felt like he was getting along fine. When he was eighteen he started his own company, an auto detailing business. “I made over a hundred thousand dollars that first year,” he recalls, adding that he could drink on the job while working outside on the cars. He got married at twenty-three, and by the time he was twenty-six, he had his own real estate company, owned four homes and had earned close to a million dollars.
By all accounts Andrews appeared a successful man, but he says he was drinking himself into oblivion. “I drank fifteen to twenty drinks a day. Straight vodka, then I switched to rum thinking I wouldn’t be as angry,” he explains.
Andrews was losing control. “I was hung over every day. Gone every night. I was not being a good father and husband,” he says.
And when things couldn’t get any worse, they did. The economy crashed. Andrews lost it all. He found himself in complete financial ruin. “Creditors were after me,” he recalls, “I couldn’t handle the pressure. I didn’t know how to deal with it.”
That’s when it happened, the day he stepped out of the gym and began to scream for help. “The spirit or something went through me,” Andrews recalls. “Something told me to go to get help, and I listened.” He went home, looked up a recovery program online, and made the call. “For the first time in my life I felt someone understood me -- how I felt,” Andrews says of that first phone call.
In May, Andrews met a man at a Ride for Recovery BBQ in San Diego. They talked about triathlons and decided to go running together. “It was a twenty-mile run and this 49-year-old guy kicked my ass,” he says.
Ever since he was a kid, Andrews watched triathlon races on TV and dreamed of one day competing. He made up his mind to take part in the Magic Mountain Man, a half-ironman triathlon with a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run. But he had a problem. “I’ve never been a good swimmer. I barely swam six laps and it killed me,” he says.
Taking a friend’s suggestion, Andrews joined the Santa Clarita Masters Club. “After one and a half hours, I thought I was going to drown,” he says, “but after two weeks I could do the whole workout.”
With the help of Santa Clarita Masters Club coach, Laurie Bossard, Andrews was on his way. “She pushes us hard and encourages me,” he says. After six weeks of training in a pool, Andrews went to Malibu to swim a mile in the sea. He did it in 34 minutes. “It was unbelievable. It felt like it was easy,” he says.
Now Andrews had the confidence he needed to compete in the Magic Mountain Man triathlon. When the day came, Andrews recalls, “I had the most spiritual, fulfilling day of my life, next to getting married and having kids.”
Andrews completed the race in six hours and 47 minutes. His family was present, cheering him on. But something else happened. “Swimming in the morning is amazing,” Andrews says, trying in vain to hold back tears. “I was a mile into the swim, and was coming into the last turn. As I turned my head to the right to breathe, I saw the sun rising over the mountains and the steam across the water … the people. I was so overwhelmed. Eight months before I wanted to die. At that moment, I fell in love with swimming.”
Sober, and with the support of his wife Vanessa and their three children, Bryan Andrews has rebuilt his life. He has a new business and continues to train with Santa Clarita Masters twice a week. In November he had his first Masters meet, placing in the top three in his age group in all his events.
Now Andrews is setting his sights on a full ironman triathlon for 2011. “It’s been the hardest ten months of my life,” Andrews says, “but the best ten months … I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”