Two Families Find Healing From Addiction Through Marathon Racing

Jul 27, 2018, 8:33 PM | Updated: 11:08 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – 41-year-old Don Hutchings and seven-year-old Emma Robison have one thing in common. They have both overcome a drug addiction, but their journeys could not be more different.

Emma only weighed 2 pounds 2 ounces when she was born. Freyja Robison and her husband adopted Emma at birth.

Her birth mother was addicted to opioids — so addicted that even becoming pregnant couldn’t stop her from using them.

Emma was exposed to the drugs in utero, significantly altering her development.

“She is non-verbal, she is legally deaf, and she is legally blind,” Freyja Robison described. “She loves to play with sensory toys that light up and play music. Music is her language.”

Three weeks after birth, Emma’s system was finally drug free. Around the same time, Hutchings was also reaching his own sobriety.

“I’ve struggled with a lifetime of addiction. It started at age 12 sneaking beers out of my grandparents’ fridges,” Hutchings explained.

After his father went to prison, Hutchings fell into a deep depression and started to self-medicated with methamphetamines.

“If I didn’t have my substance, I laid in bed and shook and slept until I got my phone call,” Hutchings described.

He was pouring $350 into the addiction daily. Sitting in jail time after time finally triggered a change.

One day Hutchings was sitting in jail with a bunch of 18-year-olds comparing charges and he thought, “Is this what my life has come to?”

Hutchings’ and Emma’s lives crossed paths when he volunteered with a group called Addict to Athlete. It’s a program designed to help people battling addiction by training for and racing in marathons.

Hutchings initially went just to meet his probation requirements.

“I went purely out of greed. I wanted to sign off community services hours,” he admitted.

But it didn’t take much to change his heart.

“There was an energy about the team. You could just feel it!” he said.

Hutchings soon fell in love with little Emma. They became racing partners in mainstream marathons. Hutchings pushes Emma in a specially designed racing stroller during each race.

“When Emma sees it she just lights up… and giggles and bounces and squeals. It is the best thing for her!” Freyja Robison said.

The program’s director Coach Blu Robinson said running marathons is a lot like the journey of recovery.

“It sucks, it’s hard, but when you’re done feel good,” he said.

As an addiction counselor, he found running alongside his athletes to be the most effective form of therapy.

He said, “They’d tell me more outside on a training run than they even did in my office.”

Robinson said running offered a new meaning for their lives.

“To allow them to erase the addiction and replace it with things of greater value,” he explained.

Running together has brought healing to two families each suffering from the bonds of addiction.

Hutchings’ wife, Brooke Hutchings, lived through the highs and lows of his addiction and recovery.

“It’s not just the addict that suffers. It’s the family too,” she said. “I never thought we’d make it!”

Brooke Hutchings also volunteers with the team. She said the program has saved their family.

“We have a whole community that surrounds us and we all recover with him together,” she described.

Hutchings said the relationships he has developed on the Addict to Athlete team helped fill a void he experienced while he was addicted.

“It gives me my connection with people who are like minded. People who are on the same journey,” he said.

Hutchings’ 11-year-old son, Russell Hutchings, cherishes the time he is able to spend with his dad today.

“Why I run is now I can spend time with him because back then I couldn’t,” he explained.

Freyja Robison said becoming friends with Hutchings and his family has helped understand how hard it was for Emma’s birth mother to quit. Freyja Robison said she forgives her.

“I didn’t understand that until I got to know people who have really been through the battle and come out the other side,” she described.

Hutchings’ service enables Emma to move in ways she otherwise could not.

“Racing gives her the ability to be free!” she said.

The bond Emma and Hutchings share is extremely special and unique.

“Even though she has trouble seeing and hearing, she knows when I’m there. She can feel me,” Hutchings said.

Frejya Robison believes Hutchings presence comes from a higher power—“an angel in human form!” she said.

In October, the Addict to Athlete team is flying to Washington D.C. to support Hutchings and Emma who are running in the Marine Corps Marathon.

The organization has more than 2,000 athletes in Utah and welcomes anyone touched by addiction.

Check out more stories of overcoming addiction in KSL’s Healthy Mind Matters series:
Ogden Man Overcomes Addiction With Help Of Intermountain Healthcare’s Access Center
Parents Fight For Opioid Education Earlier In The School System
Living With Pain Without Opioids

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Two Families Find Healing From Addiction Through Marathon Racing