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Runners race across nation, spread hope against alcoholism

Alcoholism affects more than 20 million people in the United States, stealing approximately 3.3 million lives globally each year and sends millions to rehabilitation centers, Alcohol both complicates existing health problems and increases the risk of others, such as liver disease, cirrhosis and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, liver and esophagus. Alcoholism affects not only adults, but teenagers as well. For now 34-year-old Darin Dorsett, his road to addiction began just after he graduated high school. To Dorsett, this addiction is personal, and overcoming it has been strenuous on both his body and emotions.

Dorsett’s alcohol dependence began when he was a 17-year-old freshman at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, Texas in 2000. He admits to drinking five red solo cups of beer in one night, immediately enjoying the buzz that came as a result. What Dorsett didn’t realize at the time, however, was just how dangerous this addiction was going to become.

“I had never really dealt with an active addiction [before], so I had no idea the lust that I was developing with that feeling of release would one day turn into [an addiction],” Dorsett said. “I drank and consumed like the average college student does. Well, the average college student in my book. Binge drinking was a common theme as I partied from Thursday through Sunday night. There were too many nights of ‘How did I get home?’ ‘How much did I spend?’ and so many more unanswerable questions.”

Throughout his first two years at UNT, Dorsett’s addiction became more prominent. Additionally, Dorsett was setback even further when he was struck by the next roadblock in his life. Dorsett’s diagnosis with Anorexia Nervosa, which came by his junior year of college, began to get rid of his craving for alcohol and transformed it into a desire to become healthier. This desire, however, developed into an obsession about becoming as skinny as possible, which in his opinion, was the definition of healthy. His alcohol addiction became his way of suppressing hunger, which meant he was able to go close to a week without a full meal.

This resulted in his health spiralling downward, seemingly quicker and quicker with each drink consumed and each meal skipped. Dorsett returned to his hometown of Lubbock, Texas to be closer with family as he battled his Anorexia, only three months after the diagnosis, but 80 pounds lighter. After a series of doctor visits, Dorsett was able to eventually regain the weight which he lost. One problem had gone away, but the other still remained: the constant temptation of the vodka, beer and other alcohol surrounding him.

Dorsett eventually returned to UNT and graduated in 2006. His alcohol addiction, however, came along with him. After being charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), which resulted in an 18-month probation period, the real effects of this addiction came to light. After having vivid, auditory hallucinations that developed after only two days without the consumption of alcohol, Dorsett went to the emergency room. Immediately after being discharged from the hospital, Dorsett’s family forcefully encouraged him to attend a 45-day rehabilitation program. After a few days, Dorsett appreciated the support his family gave, as it helped him remain sober for 90 days after the program’s conclusion.

Eventually, the alcohol took over Dorsett’s life again despite all of his acts of resistance. After several relocations across the country in an effort to start his life of sobriety, Dorsett began to drink the same amount he had during his college days. When trying to stand at a family vacation in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, Dorsett collapsed, experiencing grand mal seizures, which cause a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions.

His high dosage of Ativan kept him unconscious throughout the trip to the hospital in Alamogordo, New Mexico. A few days after arrival, however, Dorsett developed aspiration pneumonia in addition to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, leaving him with a dangerously low chance of survival.

“At my turning point in the hospital, I was given a 25 percent chance to make it through what I was dealing with,” Dorsett said. “Mainly the withdrawals and all the stress [the alcohol] was putting on my body. It had tripled the size of my heart, I was put in a medically induced coma; I was on a ventilator for nine days, on hospice for one, and just going through all that and being able to walk away from it, I know I was given a second chance, and I don’t want to waste that.”

Dorsett’s 28-year-old husband, Brian Dorsett, has also struggled with adversity throughout his life. Brian Dorsett was diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager. Epilepsy, a disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed, is hard to control. Brian now takes Levetiracetam, better known as Keppra, to keep a handle on this disorder. Keppra works differently from most seizure medicines, as it joins with a protein called SV2A, which is involved with the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. The mystery that this medicine holds, however, is how these actions lead to decreased seizure activity. This conundrum leaves many physicians reluctant to prescribe the medicine, Epilepsy Foundation.

The discovery of Brian Dorsett’s epilepsy came when he was only 15 years old. After experiencing increasingly painful headaches throughout an after-school basketball practice, Brian Dorsett collapsed. His coach and mother, an after-school care teacher, mistook his passing out for heat exhaustion and doused him in cold water in an attempt to help. At the hospital, Brian awoke two days later only to discover the unexpected reason for his collapse.

“I suffered a brain hemorrhage from an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM), which in layman’s terms is a brain tumor,” Brian Dorsett said. “On top of that, I had a small aneurysm as well. The AVM was about the size of an acorn and from the high blood pressure of playing basketball. It finally ran its course and it popped, along with the aneurysm.”

After having the AVM surgically removed through gamma radiation, the swelling in his brain caused Brian to undergo daily seizures. He was then able to begin to control the seizures.

“Every day is a struggle. I have trouble remembering everyday tasks; I sometimes forget where I’m at, why I’m there or what I’m doing,” Brian Dorsett said. “I experience mood swings from the medication, but I feel it’s a small price to pay to be able to still experience life and see my nieces and nephews grow to be adults and hopefully have my own children some day.”

Darin Dorsett embarked on his running journey a few years ago as a better way to cope with his alcohol dependency and sees running as an important part of his routine. After a friend of Darin Dorsett, whom he met at a rehabilitation center, completed a cross country run in 2015, Darin and Brian Dorsett became intrigued by the possibilities the trek could provide.

The biggest thing I get out of it is that it allows me to destress and get rid of negative energy,” Darin Dorsett said. “It’s just a healthier coping mechanism.”

In April 2017 the two men began planning their own route to run across the nation. Their extensive planning took months of researching the best way to accomplish their goal. The run isn’t solely a fun challenge for the Dorsetts; rather, they hope to show the world that these things are possible to conquer and control.

Darin and Brian's Route

This is a map of the Dorsett's route as they continue to push forward on their trek across the nation. Starting in Virginia Beach, Virginia, they head to their end destination at Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, California.

On a larger level, this run is to spread awareness surrounding not only epilepsy, which is what Brian was diagnosed with, but in my case addiction and suicide,” Darin Dorsett said. “I’ve never really dealt with anything personally on the suicide factor of things, but addiction, being a recovering alcoholic, definitely hits close to home.”

For Brian Dorsett, however, his wish isn’t just to spread awareness but hopefully also to get rid of the negative association people have with those who face obstacles such as addiction and epilepsy.

“My main goal is just to remove the stigma from epilepsy. I was diagnosed when I was 15, so I didn’t have the typical 15-year-old experience, [like] going to high school and getting to do all the things that [other teenagers] did,” Brian Dorsett said. “I was worried about surgeries and if I was going to be in the hospital or if I was going to be able to go to prom that year.”

The intensive planning and preparation the Dorsetts completed, including reading stories about others who had completed the cross country trek, led them to a finalized procedure. Beginning in Virginia Beach, Virginia on Oct. 16, 2017, the Dorsetts started out on their adventure. On an average week, Darin Dorsett runs a marathon (26.2 miles) every day for four straight days, taking a rest day on the fifth.

“We originally planned, based on very rough calculations, that we would end in the middle of April,” Darin Dorsett said. “I don’t think we really factored in any time off necessarily, but as it is, we are already a week ahead of schedule, just with the way that it has been going. Keep in mind, I was calculating these all by computer, and we weren’t actually out here doing it.”

While Darin Dorsett is the main runner on this journey Brian’s role in the process is equally as important. He drives alongside Darin each day and drives them both back from the day’s endpoint to where they are lodging for the night, making it so that Darin doesn’t have to run both directions, which would take much more time to complete. In addition, Brian runs the most important parts of the trek.

For lodging, the Dorsetts are not officially sponsored by Fleet Feet Sports, but more than 20 stores have already partnered with Darin and Brian, fully supporting the message they are trying to send to people across the country and providing them with a place to stay.

“We’ve had a lot of sponsor towns where either the [Fleet Feet] manager or a worker has allowed us to stay at their house with them. We also have a Tepui tent on top of our car that folds out like a book as an option, staying in campgrounds. Obviously that is a little bit colder, so we like to stay at houses. [Additionally], we do hotels along the way. It’s kind of a mixture of all three as it goes for lodging options,” Dorsett said. “We’ll be in Kansas City for Christmas with my sister and her wife, so we get to be around family for that, and after that our route goes down. We take a hard left, and we go back down to Texas, where some of the meat of the run is. We’ll be able to be around family, and it will be a great recharge.”

After reading a story posted by a different Fleet Feet Sports owner, Nancy Yaeger, owner of Fleet Feet Sports in Columbia (505 E Nifong Blvd Ste 106, Columbia, MO 65201), was eager to reach out to the Dorsetts, asking if Columbia was on their path. Yaeger, seeing how this trans-continental run is beneficial especially to those inspired and transformed through the message the Dorsetts continue to spread, was ecstatic when the Dorsetts accepted her offer.

“I actually contacted them about our store being on their route back in October,” Yaeger said. “Another Fleet Feet owner shared their story and how they were trying to plan their route to hit a lot of Fleet Feet stores. That is when I started following them and reached out to them, offering our help.”

When the Dorsetts reached Columbia Dec. 4, Yaeger welcomed them, happy to play a role in their journey. They stayed with Yaeger’s family for their time in Columbia, thankful for Yaeger and the other Fleet Feet Sports employees’ hospitality. The Dorsett’s departed Columbia on Dec. 9.

Darin and Brian Dorsett have a fundraiser on and hope they will continue to raise money as they travel across the nation. Half of the donations will go to the “To Write Love on her Arms” (TWLOHA) foundation, which is a non-profit organization, dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people who struggle with depression, addiction or suicide. The other half will go to the Epilepsy Foundation of America. Although the Dorsett’s hope to raise $20,000, spreading awareness of these issues is much more important to them than the money.

“There’s a lot of focus right now in our country on dealing with mental health and mental illness, and whenever that is brought up and put on the table next to anything else, I think it always kind of takes the forefront and is definitely the topic that is focused on,” Darin Dorsett said. “On a more personal level, it’s more of a statement to myself that if I ever doubted just how strong I can be [dealing with] active addiction and what not, I have overcome that. Above anything else,this is something that can show not only myself but [also] others how to be strong and how you can overcome those difficulties.”

The two men share the belief that anything is achievable if there is a high level of determination.

“I think that if people in the same situation are wondering, ‘Is there a way out of this?’ or ‘Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?’ Darin is the testament to that,” Brian Dorsett said. “As long as you’re willing to work at it, it will get better. It’s there if you want it. Whatever kids are struggling with right now, I want them to know that you still can go to college; you still can graduate and get a degree. The things you think you won’t be able to do, you can do.”

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