For Eloy "Andy" Sandoval, running was a very successful venture since early in his life.
For Eloy "Andy" Sandoval, running was a very successful venture since early in his life. In his freshman year of high school, Sandoval started running the two-mile race and won many races.
When he entered the Marine Corps, he took the standard three-mile run test that requires completion within 28 minutes. Sandoval finished in 16 minutes.
Not surprisingly, Sandoval was invited to join the U.S. Marine Corps Distance Running team. At the time, he was the fastest distance runner in the Marine Corps. He competed against other countries' teams and raced in places such as Okinawa, Japan.
Running and fitness remained a driving force in Sandoval's life until his wife filed for divorce in 1985. Broken-hearted, Sandoval turned to alcohol.
A drunk driving conviction resulted in a choice between three years in prison or two years of probation and substance abuse treatment at the Fort Lyon Supportive Residential Community. It was this choice that brought Sandoval to Fort Lyon 14 months ago.
Working in the kitchen at the facility, Sandoval quickly gained 40 pounds. He was taking narcotics for a back injury. Knee pain necessitated the use of a brace. Sandoval was a long way from the celebrated athlete of his past.
In the spring of 2014, Kurt Long, Otero Junior College Fitness Center director, began teaching a fitness class on-site at Fort Lyon. Sandoval saw the chance the class offered and registered. A one-mile run served as the initial fitness test. Sandoval finished his first mile in years in 18 minutes.
Tapping into the mental resources he had developed as a runner and the support of Long and the staff at Fort Lyon, Sandoval set his sights on "getting healthy." As part of this goal setting, he set out to train for the Bolder Boulder, a 10K (6.2 mile) race held each May in Boulder.
On May 25, 2015, Sandoval met this goal, completing the race in 1:08:54. Out of 46,000 finishers, he came in at 20,478. For his age and gender, he placed 103rd.
Not only did he meet this goal, but core conditioning allowed him to stop taking any medications for his back pain. He no longer requires a knee brace and the ankle pain that once plagued him is gone.
"A major part of my recovery has been getting back into physical conditioning. I have also given my life over to the Lord," said Sandoval. "Going to Alcoholics Anonymous and being at Fort Lyon and seeing how others are coping with their challenges helps me, too."
Long says that Sandoval's journey is inspiring to others at the facility. "I say 'Geez, Andy, how are you going to do that?' and it motivates them to do more," he explained.
Sandoval likes challenging others at Fort Lyon to do more physically. His advice? "Go see the chickens." (The chicken pen is a 3/4 mile walk from the main building.) "Walk. Go to the gym. Work out. Work on your health. Think about your diet," advised Sandoval.
"I dodged a bullet by giving up drugs and alcohol. Most of my friends are dead," said Sandoval. "I need to watch my thinking and not let it bring me back down."
In the most recent one-mile fitness test, Sandoval ran his mile in 7:10. Not one to rest on his laurels, Sandoval has set a new goal; to break a six-minute mile. There is no doubt that he will give that goal all he has.
For Sandoval, running has always brought a feeling of belonging and success. Finding his way back to that feeling is helping him succeed in life again. "I see a brighter future for myself," said Sandoval. "I have hope, love, faith and peace."