Years ago, when dealing with her stepdaughter’s methamphetamine addiction that threatened to tear her family apart, Linda Quirk turned to running as a way to stay sane in the midst of life chaos. Now, she’s pounding the pavement again, but this time with a mission: to help stop alcohol and drug abuse in America and around the world.
Linda, 60, of Jacksonville, Fla., is the founder of Runwell, a nonprofit foundation that supports drug and alcohol addiction treatment. To raise awareness for her cause, Linda has competed in numerous marathons, triathlons and Ironman competitions around the world. Her mission has taken her to all corners of the globe and back, from the freezing glaciers of Antarctica to the Great Wall of China. Along the way, she has broken records, made history, and raised nearly $800,000 for to aid in treatment for alcohol and drug abuse in America through both pledges and corporate sponsorship.
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Linda knows firsthand the tremendous strain that substance addiction can place on a family. Beginning in 1999, she watched her stepdaughter struggle with a debilitating meth addiction on and off for nearly five years before finally entering recovery in 2005. The experience opened Linda’s eyes to a critical societal issue that often gets swept under the rug.
“It was a confusing time,” Linda recalls. “There were a lot of difficult emotions that came up. When addiction happens within a family, it’s easy to feel embarrassed. It’s easy to think, ‘What did I do wrong?’ There’s such a stigma surrounding addiction in our society. People don’t want to talk about it.”
Throughout that taxing experience, Linda relied on running to stay calm and grounded. “Running was the most important component for me. I would have driven myself completely insane without it. It kept my head clear,” she says. “When I ran, could just be with me. It was my solace.”
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In 2005, Linda transformed her passion into an opportunity for change when she competed in the Kona Ironman in Hawaii to raise money for Caron Renaissance, the Boca Raton-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that treated her stepdaughter.
“I wanted to find a way to give back to Caron for what we had been given, and for what our daughter had been given—the gift of recovery,” Linda says.
As soon as she crossed the finish line, Linda knew that her journey had only just begun. “I realized that I needed to get the word out there about substance addiction,” Linda says. “It all sort of escalated from there.”
Within the span of two years, Linda singlehandedly raised nearly $500,000 to support treatment programs for drug abuse in America. The next year, she established the Run7on7 foundation around her audacious pledge to run seven marathons on all seven continents in less than a year, a goal she accomplished in 2008.
From there, Linda continued to make history. In 2010, she completed Racing the Planet’s 4 Deserts “Grand Slam,” a series of four grueling, 250-kilometer desert races held in four extreme climates, becoming the oldest person and first American to complete the prestigious event in one calendar year.
“It was incredibly exciting,” Linda says of winning the title. But she adds that her proudest accomplishment of all has been watching the tremendous growth her foundation has made since its inception seven years ago. In 2011, Linda re-launched Run7on7 as Runwell, a 501c(3) non-profit with a global mission to make drug and alcohol addiction treatment accessible to all by partnering with organized running events in locations across the world, from Boston to Chile to China. To get involved, runners can register for a number of Runwell-affiliated races on the foundation’s website. From there, participants are challenged to raise a minimum dollar amount in Runwell donations by reaching out to friends and family or by securing corporate sponsors.
“This past year, we have grown tremendously and are now expanding internationally,” Linda says. “I would have to say that is my most exciting, most fulfilling achievement—knowing that we are building a momentum and making a difference in thousands of lives.”
Linda notes that attitudes towards addiction are essentially identical across cultures: attitudes of shame, embarrassment, and disgrace. For that reason, Runwell seeks to facilitate a healthy discourse on a topic that is often considered socially taboo. It also hopes to send a message of optimism and faith to struggling addicts.
“There is so much negativity surrounding the disease of addiction. At Runwell, we try to raise awareness about this issue in a positive, healthy way,” Linda explains. “We try to stress that people can recover…that they can go on to lead healthy, productive lives.”
She cites her stepdaughter as an example. “At her lowest point, she was wandering the streets of San Francisco. We thought she would never conquer her addiction, but I’m proud to say she’s been clean and sober for nine years now,” Linda says. “There is hope and help. Be a part of the solution with us.”