The transformative power of running pulses through every part of Tarrant Cross Child’s being.
In 1998, Cross Child surprised the local running community with a win at Saskatchewan Marathon in his hometown of Saskatoon. It was a celebratory day for him and his fiancée, Celeste, a runner herself, ran her first half-marathon that day. They’d met as teenagers, running in Medicine Hat, and the sport was more of a lifestyle for them now, and a significant part of their relationship.
Those around him assumed that Cross Child was happily settling in to a dream life. He was fit, focused on improving as a runner, had started a tiling business and was beginning to look toward building a family. “I was engaged to be married, had a good trade, involved in a youth program at our church, looking to buy our first home and, of course, improving my running,” says Cross Child. “After we accomplished all that and started to settle in as a new family and having our first child, addiction slowly crept in.”
The slide into addiction stemmed out of depression, and became steeper in 2004 when Cross Child was rocked by the death of his 12-year-old nephew. At the time he relied on alcohol for comfort; then with the passing of his mother, three years later, he became further ensnarled.
“I was angry and the drinking increased and I started to gamble. This is when the addiction started to ruin my life,” says Cross Child. “Very slowly at times, and yet very fast it affected my relationships, my running, my business – all parts of my life.”
“I had four children, three boys ages five, eight, 10 and one beautiful 12-year-old girl. I wrote them each letters and left them on the table prior to my suicide attempt.”
Years went by as Cross Child struggled to keep his once-thriving business a float and he was losing his capacity to be a loving, supportive father and husband; all the while his will to run was countered by the ugly demands of a creeping addiction. He looks back now to one spring day, and an agonizing walk along the South Saskatchewan River, when he felt a yearning to run.
“I was so depressed and hungover walking along the river one morning,” he recalls. “Then soon several runners passed by and it turned out to be the Saskatchewan Marathon race. I remembered winning, and wished I was running it.”
But instead, Cross Child gave in to drinking and further gambling, driving his family into debt and distancing himself emotionally from those who loved him.
In April of 2014, the shame and guilt associated with his addiction became too much to bare. He was convinced his wife and young children would be better without him.
“I felt defeated, hopeless, unfixable and that there was absolutely no way out of this pit that I was in,” recalls Cross Child. “I had four children, three boys ages five, eight, 10 and one beautiful 12-year-old girl. I wrote them each letters and left them on the table prior to my suicide attempt.”
Cross Child woke up in a hospital bed in Saskatoon. Celeste was sitting in the chair next to his bed. The couple had run countless memorable miles together in those early years before addiction took over their family’s life. Still, as her husband’s will to run faded, Celeste stayed committed to the sport. It became her saving grace over the course of many tumultuous years, as she faced the financial threat of losing their home, and the emotional toll of witnessing the man she loves destroy himself.
“When I ran it felt like things could be OK,” Celeste says. “It was something I could control when everything else was out of control. I would just let my thoughts wander, or pray.” Running was the one time she could let her thoughts unravel so she could momentarily slow down and relax, helping her to figure out what to do next. But as she left the trails and headed home, other women would run the other direction who seemed carefree, and she wondered what it might feel like to be without the burdens awaiting her upon her return home.
“The thought of having to say, ‘For your own good, you can’t come home,’ was actually making me sick.”
For years Celeste says she lived with “knots in her stomach,” not knowing what was next to come for her family. On the day she sat with her husband in the hospital those knots clenched tighter as the limited number of affordable treatment options became stunningly real.
“I had no idea where he was going to go,” she says looking back on the panicked day after he survived his suicide attempt, when the details of what comes next began to sink in. “The thought of having to say, ‘For your own good, you can’t come home,’ was actually making me sick,” she says. “I knew I couldn’t look after him. He had made it clear he wanted to kill himself.”
A 12-month religious residential rehabilitation centre called Teen Challenge, just outside of Allan Sask., looked to be the only viable option, but Celeste knew getting Cross Child to commit to the program was going to be a long shot. “I would have never thought he’d go because he was so against anything faith-based,” she says. “My first feeling after waking up in the hospital was anger,” says Cross Child. But as his anger turned into confusion he says he knew he needed help – and he made a desperate plea to a higher power, even though he had been rejecting the idea of the existence of a God during his years of addiction.
“I thought my rock bottom was when I tried to end my life, but in the hospital I felt double what I felt before my suicide attempt,” Cross Child says. “I called on God for help during intense shaking, crying and sweating: ‘If you are real and have a plan for me I need a sign right now.’” As he was desperately muttering this a nurse came into the room.
“She noticed in my file that I was considering Teen Challenge and told me that it was a great place and that her mother cuts hair there once a month. I felt this peace come over me and I felt like I had hope again,” he describes. “I felt this massive breakthrough deep down inside.” Days later, on April 28, 2014, Cross Child walked up the steps of the Teen Challenge Saskatchewan Men’s Centre and began his journey toward healing.
A small shed barely interrupts the Prairie skyline along the 10-acre plot of land just outside the small town of Allan, Sask. For the unaffected passing by, it would seem nothing more than another weather-worn wooden structure dotting the vast, often homogenous, land of the Canadian Prairies. But for Cross Child, this unremarkable building became a tangible starting point in his recovery.
Cross Child spent a year at the Teen Challenge Saskatchewan Men’s Centre, during which he had limited contact with his family. The focus was on facing his struggles and healing. It was during this time he also finally rediscovered his love of running, and stride by stride began putting the pieces of himself back together.
“It was a lightbulb moment,” says Cross Child. “I thought, ‘I’m going to go for a run.’” As part of the rehabilitation process the centre’s professionals encourage the men to exercise, but little did they know the giant they were awakening within Cross Child.
“I was only allowed to go to the shed and back, which was about a kilometre and half, which was fine with me because I had difficulty even doing that at first.” But quickly those more frustratingly short, laboured efforts became easier, and Cross Child was seeking out more space to run.
“When I read he was running again I was extremely excited because I knew that would be a part of his healing.”
“Soon I needed special permission to go to the farmers’ turn-off, then to the Allan turn-off, and then to the railroad tracks.” Then, one fall day, as the combines traced the wheat-filled outskirts of the centre’s boundaries, Cross Child felt an unrelenting desire to push his own boundaries; and as the rehab centre fell from his sight, he crossed the railroad tracks and kept on running.
He was healing, and along the way receiving ongoing support from Celeste, with whom he shared the stories of his running adventures in his daily diary. Both started journalling on the day he committed to going to rehab and they continued writing throughout Cross Child’s time at the recovery centre, exchanging journals with one another on their monthly visits.
“When I read he was running again I was extremely excited because I knew that would be a part of his healing,” says Celeste. “And running was how we met and such a big part of our lives when he was healthy.”
As much as running had been a part of their lives, the couple lost touch with others in the running community through the more chaotic years of Cross Child’s addiction. But a chance meeting between Celeste and one of Cross Child’s former running partners, Brian Michasiw, opened up an opportunity for the couple to reconnect.
During their conversation, Celeste spoke about the turmoil their family had been through. “I really admired how open and honest Celeste was with me. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her to tell me,” recalls Michasiw, who is a six-time winner of the Saskatchewan Marathon and owner of Brainsport, a running store in Saskatoon.
Celeste went on to tell him about how Cross Child was starting to run again while in rehab, but without proper shoes. Michasiw, whose shoe collection is vast and ever-changing, offered a few pairs of close to-brand-new shoes for Cross Child. “Tarrant and I are the same shoe size and I had no shortage of shoes to give him,” Michasiw says. “I was glad to help, but wished there was more I could do.”
It may not have felt like enough to Michasiw, but to Cross Child those shoes were a lifeline. He continued running into the golden days of fall and on through the deep-freeze and dark days of winter. All the while working toward a goal he set for himself shortly after taking those first few runs to the shed and back early on in his recovery – he wanted to get back to the start line of the of the Saskatchewan Marathon. It was the last weekend in May, just weeks after he would complete his year-long stay at the recovery centre.
On May 31, 2015, 17 years after finishing in first place, Cross Child once again crossed the finish line of the Saskatchewan Marathon. It was a victory undefinable by a time on a clock, or a place on a podium standing. “When I crossed that finish line, I knew it was the start of a whole new life,” recalls Cross Child, his finisher’s medal presented to him by Celeste, who also ran in the marathon that day.
In the months following the Saskatchewan Marathon, Cross Child worked to repair his relationships, rebuilt his tiling business and he and Celeste began running with a group of competitive runners in Saskatoon. Coach Jason Warick, who was one of Canada’s top long distance runners in his prime, has been working with the couple for more than two years now. And as much as he’s guided them, he notes the impact they have had had on his life.
“Part of it is about running, but most of it is about being honoured to know Celeste and Tarrant as people and to see what they have overcome,” says Warick, who is married and has two young children of his own.
“They’re both models of overcoming obstacles and perseverance, which is incredible,” Warick says. “What Tarrant came through is amazing, but what Celeste did to hold their family and their marriage together is something that has helped me – to see an example of these rock solid relationships that can withstand things that most people wouldn’t think.”
The Cross Childs’ story has proven to be one of continuous inspiration, not only to those who know them well, but to the thousands of children they have reached through their running clinics. Children of the Cross Running Clinics, as it is now called, was born out of Cross Child’s desire to share his passion for running and its transformational power with others who are struggling with mental health issues and with youth at high risk, particularly in Northern Saskatchewan.
Last year, Canadians took notice of this often-overlooked part of the country. First, after the school shootings in La Loche in January, which took four lives. Then again later in the year when six young girls in northern communities committed suicide within weeks of one another. The alarming news brought attention to the ongoing challenges many of these communities face with mental health issues and the subsequent destructive behaviours. This is when Cross Child felt the pull to begin sharing his story.
“From my own experience of dealing with addictions and coming through it, I needed to share. I needed them to know there is hope and restoration is possible,” says Cross Child. “I needed to share my life story and needed to share my passion of running.”
A connection to Aaron Fosseneuve, a vice-principal at Charlebois Community School in the northeastern community of Cumberland House, led Cross Child to his first go at sharing his story and his love of running with students, ranging from pre-kindergarten to Grade 12.
In a culture often silent on issues of mental health, Fosseneuve says it goes a long way to have someone relatable, such as Cross Child, speaking openly about his own challenges.
“It’s developing those social skills to talk about mental health, I think that’s what we need to deal with, with our aboriginal youth,” says Fosseneuve, who believes giving students confidence is key and that running can play a positive role. “At my school we’re seeing some unsuccessful students because of anxiety issues and if running can help build some intrinsic motivation, along with the physical aspect, it’s one area that can help.”
“I never imagined things would be better – ever – for us. I had completely given up . . . I want people to know that change can and does happen.”
After receiving a positive response from Charlebois Community School, invitations from other northern schools as well as schools in and around Saskatoon started coming for Cross Child; and soon Children of the Cross Running Clinics was born.
The clinics are a labour of love between himself, Celeste and his children; with each family member playing a role. Their 15-year-old daughter Jaira, a provincial cross-country champion, is a role model for young girls and is eager to travel into the northern communities. While their younger boys, Kinley, Jayvin and Jarrett, are equally enthusiastic and like to help with everything from handing out gently used running shoes – donated by the Brainsport Shoe Donation Program – to helping with the set-up for Cross Child’s presentations. Celeste primarily works on the administrative and logistical end, but also gets out to run with as many children as she can. Having completed more than 15 marathons, she’s full of running knowledge.
The life the Cross Childs now lead seems almost unbelievable to the couple at times, but they are both overjoyed knowing they are a part of helping others who may be facing similar circumstances they once battled, and making a positive impact on young lives.
“The biggest thing is for kids and adults to hear that there is hope; no matter how bad things seem there is hope,” says Celeste. “I never imagined things would be better – ever – for us. I had completely given up . . . I want people to know that change can and does happen.”
As for Cross Child, he wouldn’t be doing any this if it weren’t for Celeste. “It’s the fact that we’re doing it together that makes it all that more enjoyable,” says Cross Child. “When I look back at what I put her through, and where we are now – it’s amazing to me.”
Having already reached more than 6,000 children with his message, Cross Child sees no limits for the running clinics and envisions expanding into communities across the country. Still, as big as his plans may get, Cross Child keeps it all in perspective and believes if going into a single community “changes one life, it’s worth it.”