She was good. Really good. Like most high school stars who are awarded full-ride athletic scholarships to division one universities, Amber was used to being the best ball player on the diamond. Her freshman year at Baylor University in 2000 would be her first experience having to work hard to keep up. How did she respond? She drank.
Amber gained 30 pounds her first year in college, never missed an opportunity to party, underachieved academically, and lost her scholarship. It was over before her collegiate athletic career ever had a chance to get started.
Her dreams of softball success – the dreams that felt like her unstoppable destiny her whole life to that point – she drank those dreams away. How did she respond? She drank more. Her drinking progressed until Amber was drinking a bottle or two of wine every single day.
With dreams of athletic excellence dashed, Amber struggled through a “normal” existence medicated by alcohol. She went back to school earning both bachelors and masters degrees with frequent binge-drinking sessions as part of her academic routine. She took a stressful job as a teacher in a low-income school in Northern California while drinking away her anxiety nightly.
Amber got married and had kids. The pregnancy-induced sobriety opened her eyes to the dysfunction in her marriage that she had previously imbibed away. Adulthood for Amber, as is the case for so many of us, meant an accumulation of pressure. She had two beautiful children who deserved her attention and nurturing, a demanding and stressful job, and a marriage on the rocks that depended on her dependence on alcohol.
By 2019, she was a divorced single mother who was trying unsuccessfully to find sobriety. Amber could make it 65 days sober, but then something would always happen to trip her up. A trigger or a stresser. A comment from a family member who didn’t understand and tried to convince her that she didn’t have a drinking problem.
Can you imagine that (if you are reading this, there is a good chance that you can)? Amber was trying to do the hardest thing she had ever done in her life – end her relationship with alcohol – and her support system was telling her that her drinking wasn’t as bad as she was making it out to be. Alcohol is the only drug that you have to justify not taking. Amber’s struggle to get over the hump of addiction and the stigma of cultural apathy and societal acceptance of abusive drinking included more that a few “fuck it” moments when she gave in and popped the cork.
But there was one constant, positive thread through it all. Since joining the cross country team her freshman year in high school, Amber had been running. Through her binge drinking, her softball debacle at Baylor, her marriage and divorce, and through both of her pregnancies, Amber never stopped running.
Today, Amber Graziano Cano is the proud and inspiring founder of Recovery Road Runners: a sobriety support and running group with over 1,000 members and growing.
How did she go from desperate and broken, clinging by her fingernails to a high-functioning alcoholic existence drinking away her pain, to a leader in the sobriety revolution? Amber took advantage of the very thing she offers her followers. She took advantage of connection.
I met Amber in April of 2020. She joined our SHOUT Sobriety group because of her 65 day roadblock. What an obscure number – not the 30 or 60 or 90 days for which you can receive a chip in an AA meeting. Amber could make it to 65 days of sobriety, but then the doubt and temptation would get the best of her, and fuck it, she would drink. She would drink because she had not yet found her tribe. To make it over that hump, Amber needed to find the people who believed in her and understood her challenges.
One year later, in April of 2021, Recovery Road Runners was born.
Humans are designed to be in community. That’s why we feel the natural inclination to pair up, build families and cheer each other on. So why do so many of us insist on taking on the monumental task of sobriety alone? Shame and stigma, that’s why. And that’s why it is so important that we tell our stories for the benefit of the stubborn and lonely sobriety seekers that follow us. That’s exactly what Amber is doing…in a very big way.
Asked why she decided Recovery Road Runners was her calling, Amber told me, “I had the idea that I wanted to find all of the sober runners out there and become friends with them, and to help others get sober through running and fitness. Running and sobriety have always gone hand in hand for me and I knew I wasn’t the only one.”
Amber has grown Recovery Road Runners into a robust program that includes both free and paid services, and has something for anyone who sees running as a healthy replacement for alcohol. As it is so often said, we have to fill the void with something. Amber and her 1,000+ RRR friends are filling the void with miles of pavement and a supportive, like-minded community.
Recovery Road Runners offers free video calls, lots of web resources, a private facebook group, virtual races, 30 day challenges, one-on-one coaching, running retreats, and more. Above all, RRR offers support and friendship in a vibrant and fast-growing group of people committed to making their lives better. It isn’t about rock-bottom stories and stale doughnuts. It’s about progress, mile after mile.
This is not a paid endorsement. I am sharing Amber’s story because I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t. I can’t scream the benefits of SHOUTing about sobriety without telling my tribe about my friend who is SHOUTing the loudest. Amber is much more than a friend. She is an inspiration. She is a person I think of when doubt creeps in and I wonder why I am doing all of this.
It is a lot easier to be successful when we are running toward a goal rather than running away from a bad habit. Amber is running toward a passion that has no finish line. It’s about much more than sobriety. It’s about getting better at life, day after day. I’ll never stop cheering Amber on.
If you are ready to stop trying to do it alone, and you are looking for your tribe, please consider joining us in SHOUT Sobriety or Recovery Road Runners. Or you can be like Amber and me, and join both.