Suzanne Bowma

A little over a year ago, my wife suggested that we offer to start a couch to 5k program at The Next Door.   The Next Door is a 6-month residential recovery program for women in downtown Nashville.  It is an amazing organization, but at the time, they did not have a fitness aspect to the curriculum, and my wife knew many of the women going through the program were frustrated that they couldn't lose weight. Through a series of events, too amazing to recount, I was connected with a woman who wanted to start a fitness program at The Next Door.  I called Heidi Huerta to see if she would help.  She said "of course" and The Next Door couch to 5k program started.

Fast forward to April 27th, Suzanne Bowman finished the Country Music Marathon, in the cold rain, 7 months after finishing The Next Door couch to 5k program.  It is with pride and pleasure that I introduce you to our newest East Nasty of the Week (ENOW), Suzanne Bowman, in her own words.


suzanne bowman

suzanne bowman

I’d been running easy for almost two and a half hours, the course relatively flat for this east Tennessee girl.  I knew I’d feel ok up to that point.  After all, hadn’t I been running every day, running from the nightmare I’d put myself through for the past five years?  I don’t know how many miles I had run.  It didn’t matter, but I knew I might start hurting when three hours rolled around, and, ouch, please God, let me conquer this thing in under five hours.  But, with the exception of raw feet and a slight rash on account of a torrential downpour that Forrest Gump couldn’t possibly describe, LP Field came into view unexpectedly, as did the sun.  I ripped off my poncho, free, unencumbered, and ran across the finish line of the 2013 Country Music Marathon in Nashville, Tennessee, the place I now call home. Pretty swell considering my first full day free from alcohol addiction occurred July 28, 2012.  I began running again, thanks to The Next Door Program, who encouraged me to embrace wellness and healing of my body and soul, in Nashville, on August 4, 2012.

Do you see those black spots on your pancreas and liver?  If you don’t stop drinking, you will die.  We may have to take your gall bladder out.

My brother was a high school track star, so I ran on the track team too.  My father went to the Citadel on a football scholarship.  I played soccer for the University of Tennessee at the age of 18.  But I was not a naturally gifted athlete.  Instead, I exuded tenacity.  I learned that competition itself is less of a motivator than the simple act of physical exploration a fit body can experience while sensually moving through this beautiful earth.  I liked to run.  While running, I could pray, sing, compose, create, observe, breath, feel, communicate and love.  When I ran, I felt inebriated.  I thought I would own this gift forever.

I stare at the participants, one by one, raising their victorious arms, friends and supporters whooping, clapping.  Passing through the corral, they slow to a stop, gasping, moist smiles on their faces, the numbers on the race clock indicating their final finish time.  Remembering, shaking, I drank vodka out of a dirty water bottle.

But at 42, I began to drink every day.  I had a great time at first, the thrill I was always looking for:  living life with no inhibitions, the volume on everything turned way up.  For the next five years, alcohol became my obsession.  My conduit to God disintegrated.  I lived in a fog, my lens cloudy.  I lost my health, and my memory and capacity for rational thought.  I alienated myself from friends and family, severing a relationship that had spanned over 20 years.  In the end, I was homeless, penniless, stranded, and soulless.  All that mattered was that next bottle, and to disappear into it.  My fitness level reflected my addiction.  My once vibrant athletic body was overweight and bloated, my skin jaundiced and malnourished.  I could no longer run or do a single push up.  My diet consisted of vodka, beer, and anything, healthy or not, that would stay down.  Every morning, vomiting and trembling, I waited outside that liquor store cursing those blue laws that insist that such establishments not open until nine AM.

It was during these painful sober mornings I knew I needed help, but with no job or resources, no treatment facility would accept me without payment, insurance, or a long waiting period.  But standing outside a hospital at four o’clock in the morning having just been released from jail for the tenth time since the summer of 2008, I watched with watery eyes the living starting their day, in their cars, insurance paid up, going to actual jobs, coming home at the end of the day to a place they call home, where there is no sleeping outside.  Shaking and sick, I prayed for the first time, “God, please don’t let me die.  Bob and Judy Bowman did not love this little girl to exist like this.  You didn’t make me aware of all of creation to stare at it through this dirty window I now look through.  I’ll do whatever it takes.”

At the Knoxville Area Mission:  Can you loan me a couple of dollars?  I’m sick.  I’m scared.  You can’t have alcohol on these premises.

The next day, I received a call from The Next Door, a program that not only treats alcohol and drug addiction, but teaches its clients how to live.  Upon arrival, I met some residents who told me there was a group that would run the following morning and that it’s part of a wellness program that includes yoga, circuit training, and of course, running.  They were, in fact, training for a 6K (that race, the first I had participated in since fall of 2007, was the Heroes in Recovery 6K, 2012 at Leaper’s Fork).     

My first morning, my first run, in Nashville, seven days after giving up alcohol, I was hurting after a quarter of a mile.  But the next morning, I did it again, and the next day, and the next day… until three months later, and a 5K, I ran for an hour.

My father after a high school track meet:  Train in such a way every day so that you reduce “course fatigue.”  The faster you run, and the better shape you’re in, the less time you spend on the course.

During the next six months, I made new friends, sober friends in fitness, who I want to give thanks for being there during those first precarious days of my recovery.  Thank you, Jen, for God allowing you to share your knowledge and passion for health and fitness. Thank you, Heidi, for your motivation, friendship, and gentle coaching.  And thank you East Nasty Running Club for including me, your advice, and encouragement.  I finally did it:  26.2!  God gave my gift back to me in three-fold.

Today, I have a new prayer:  to once again feel the moisture of an early morning on my skin; to experience the pride of acrid sweat and the soil beneath my shoes; to smell the honeysuckle in the mist; and to see the fog ascending through the gap parallel to a road I’ve run many times everywhere I’ve been.

Now, when I run every day, I am living as Thoreau would approve, “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.”  I don’t want money.  I don’t need possessions.  I don’t need drugs or alcohol to mask pain, boredom, or frustration.  I don’t need them to feel good.  When I live “deliberately,” I live for truth, soul, beauty, sweat, purpose, harmony.  I run to see God face to face.

Suzanne Bowman

Recovering alcoholic

Nashville, Tennessee

May 5, 2013

Suzanne, thank you for sharing this.  Your story is an inspiration, as well as a reminder of how important it is for us to be good stewards within our community.  I asked Heidi Huerta to give me a sentence or two about you and about her experience coaching at The Next Door.  Here is what she had to say:

"Words can't express what an inspiration Suzanne Bowman has been to me from the first day I met her at The Next Door.  Her tenacity, intelligence, focus, and ability to be open and vulnerable are traits I admire. Her recovery has set the bar even higher. She sets out with a goal in mind and that tenacity kicks in. I truly believe there is nothing she can't accomplish.  Suzanne has significantly changed my life and I am forever grateful. I am proud to call her my friend! Run Suzanne Run!! xoxo"

Suzanne, congratulations on your sobriety and on RUNNING A MARATHON.  Welcome to the ENOW club!  We're honored and pleased to welcome you into the fold!