Written by Ashley Dier | Academy Of Lions Media Team | Toronto

Everyone has that person in their lives who acts as a catalyst of change. A person who leads by doing, who encourages and inspires you to push... and then push a little more. Mike Krupica is that person, for me and many others.

Many things to many people, Mike is a co-founder of Parkdale Roadrunners and Off The Grid, an entrepreneur, and a community builder, he is a leader. Mike, a long distance runner, has ran many marathons including the elusive Boston Marathon and is at the Academy grinding it out with his crew five days a week. He hustles... hard and is ridiculously unassuming (a result of his v-chill vibes).

Mike’s life hasn't always been filled with health and wellness. A few years ago he was wrestling a deep, dark and vicious drug and alcohol addiction. It was bad, it was intense, it was consuming and was pushing his body to a lethal breaking point.

Mike took up running. It started as a bet between three friends, who could run the most kilometers in one month. Prior to the bet, his only experience with running was punishment for sports he enjoyed, but never one to shy away from a challenge, Mike agreed...and won. Two and a half years later, Mike fell in love with running and began to take everything seriously. It was at this point in his life that a radical, transformative shift began. He gave everything up, went vegan and became completely sober. “Everything changed. I was able to reach goals I didn’t even set for myself. My A goal was blown out of the water,” Mike said. Career changes, business moves, friends, his successes and even his sobriety Mike attributes it all to running. “None of it would have happened if it wasn’t for running,” he said.

“I remember the turning point. It was New Year’s Day. I woke up and assessed everything and thought, ‘this isn’t how I want to live’, I can remember the exact moment. It had been bubbling for a while, but that was the turning point,” Mike said.

Mike has been sober for just over three years.

Addiction is a complicated disease. It’s a complicated combination of many “perfect storm” type factors... physical, emotional and environmental. According to the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse, conservative estimates found that 4.4% of Canadians met the criteria for a substance abuse disorder. (from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey). Relapse rates for those treated for substance abuse disorders are 40-60%.

  Photo : Jackie Beale 

 Photo : Jackie Beale 

“Knowing what I was doing to my body and what I enjoy doing [running], knowing how they do not go hand in hand, I think that’s what has kept me from relapsing,” he said. Adding, “I’m a numbers person, if I relapse it starts at zero again and I don’t wanna start at zero again.”

Mike’s story is far greater than addiction. His life has shifted from selfish to selfless.

He has taken the positive influence running and a healthy lifestyle has had on his own journey and shares it with the community. He gives back to the thing that helped save his life.

“I ran my first marathon and never told anyone I was doing it. I finished, and nobody was there. I didn’t have a crew of people around me, my friends were all still in the bars. Running was the part I didn’t talk about. The two parts of my life didn’t mix. Finishing that marathon was a very empty feeling. I had been training for so long to finish it, and I thought I’d go through this runners high, this euphoric feeling, this was going to be my replacement drug sort of thing, I remember crossing the line...it was such an empty feeling. You see people around you getting flowers and kisses from their loved ones and all I could think of was now what,” Mike shared.

“It was such a shitty feeling that when the Parkdale Roadrunners started picking up, I never wanted anyone to experience that 'now what feeling'. I wasn’t smart enough to have another race, another goal in mind. I had been training for about 10 months in total, and now I didn’t even know if I was a runner. I remember thinking 'I don't want anyone feeling that'. We’re [Parkdale Roadrunners] to the point now that we’ve built this huge community and people don’t feel that,” he added.

Support plays a large role in both the Academy and running communities. When Mike shared this hugely personal memory with me, I couldn’t help but think of how seconds after my feet cross the finish line of any major race I’ve ran I receive a text from him. Regardless of the results or my time he congratulates me. Despite being filled with people the finishers chute can be a lonely place, he goes out of his way to ensure that no one enters it alone. I’ve always been grateful for those messages and never understood why they happen moments after I finish, I get it now.

 Photo: Jackie Beale

Photo: Jackie Beale

Mike’s first real experience of the Academy community was through Lions League. He quickly realized he had strengths he was unaware of, and was easily humbled by the challenging movements. He was amazed at how everyone at the gym rallied around each other. “There is no hierarchy with community, whether you’re a leader or an outsider coming in, the support is always there. I didn’t feel like I was 100% a part of the gym because I thought 'I don’t do what most of the people at the gym do'. When it came to Lions League, I was welcomed... that is the feeling that I’ve always wanted with Parkdale, we wanted everybody to feel welcomed. We wanted everybody to feel like they had a home when they came to our home,” Mike said. The Academy and Mike's experience at Lions League really cemented his ideas on what a community is really about.  

When I asked Mike what present day Mike would say to Mike of the past he paused, then answered, “be a better person to yourself, care are about yourself.” It was hard for him to answer me, but I pressed a little more and he added, “mentally I was a mess, I’m a much calmer person now, I’m much more positive now, there were some dark days that I don’t have anymore…” his words were heavy and lingered in the room, we both stayed quiet for a moment.

Recently Mike, five other runners, a driver and a nurse all boarded an RV and ran from LA to Vegas (that's 344 miles) in 49.5 hours. This adventure, known as The Speed Project, to anyone else may seem like a death wish but to Mike and the close friends he ran it with it was doable challenge. “We signed up because it seemed like an insane challenge. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. 12 runners from Parkdale ran a Ragnar relay a few years ago and I didn’t really feel like it pushed me to the limit. So when the opportunity came up to run twice the distance with half as many runners…I was intrigued,” Mike said. Completing The Speed Project was life-altering experience for everyone involved * 

The sense of intrigue and dedication present when Mike decided to tackle and conquer The Speed Project, has been continuously present since the day he decided to take charge of his life and choose sobriety. Mike’s fitness journey is continuing to develop and grow, it’s evident to anyone watching his story evolve. The changes in his life both personally and professionally are astronomical and inspiring. Mike admits that he still needs work, and that he is “far from the perfect example of a healthy human,” but who is really?  A leader who leads by example, Mike lives a mindful life filled with physical activity and endless community support.  Because of the dedication of people like Mike, we are #inthis2gether.

* To hear more about The Speed Project, check out Podcast EP. 63 The Speed Project- Live from LA to Vegas. Click here

**Special thank you to Jackie Beale for sharing these incredible photos. Check out more of her work @JACBEALE