Running In Place - Page 7
"It was so humbling, and I was almost embarrassed to be running through Giza. The history was so intimidating, and made me feel small and insignificant," says Engle. "The thing that I am most proud of is that we all three finished together— the odds of all three of us making it are incalculable. I felt relieved and validated because we did something that many felt was impossible. And somehow I had been able to convince Matt Damon and James Moll that it was a good idea."
Engle says he is also proud to be a co-founder of H20 Africa, an organization founded to address the dire water crisis on the continent. Running the Sahara raised over $6 million dollars for the cause, and resulted in hundreds of life-saving wells being built in remote areas.
Ironically, Engle's crowning achievement of running across the Sahara Desert is what triggered his labyrinthine legal battle.
Another irony is that Engle's distance running and adventure-racing obsession— and ability to exert a positive, motivating influence on others—was borne of his severe addiction to drugs and alcohol. That period began at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he enrolled in 1980 as a 17-year-old freshman.
By the time he was a 20-year-old junior, he had flunked out. Engle says he got hooked partying with his fraternity brothers. In the 1980s, cocaine was the ubiquitous campus drug, and he started dealing so he could snort as much as he wanted. Engle quickly developed a classic addict's pattern that would haunt him for 10 years.
"I had what's known in addiction as a series of `geographicals,' which means I moved frequently," says Engle. "If I moved, I would leave all my problems behind." He moved, among other cities, to Seattle; to Carmel, California; to Atlanta; to Greensboro; and Monterey, California. Engle had married Pam in 1987 (they would divorce in 2002), and lived a double life.
"I would move, get a job, even become the best at my job," he says. "I would make money, do all the right things, then I would fuck it up completely. Of course, it was always somebody else's fault. As a committed addict I always found a way to blame somebody else for my problems." He usually worked in sales, including for Bally Total Fitness and Toyota, where he become the top salesman in the country.
Starting in the late 1980s, he began his hailstorm car-repair career. "It was the perfect business for an addict," he says. "I traveled all time, made good money and had complete freedom."
Even through regular multi-day binges, Engle says running remained in his life. "When I would get sick and tired enough of myself and my destructive behavior, I would put on the running shoes again. Running would take the place of my drug addiction."
Being a competent natural runner, Engle was able to clean up for two or three months, when he would run and lift and obsess on training. "I am blessed with enough of an ego that goes along with my addiction to every once in a while look in mirror and say, `Holy shit, you look terrible.'" In 1989, at 27, Engle ran the Napa Valley Marathon, where he qualified for Boston, which he ran 30 days later. A week later, he ran the Big Sur Marathon.
"The problem was that I was so spiritually and emotionally empty as a human being that, for example, when I finished Big Sur, I felt nothing, no joy, no satisfaction," says Engle. "Two days later, I was back out on a week-long binge. No matter what I was doing, all my behavior was as an addict. Everything was all out, all the time, 100 percent. I couldn't do anything in a healthy way."