As a recovering alcoholic, Vanisha Breault turned to running to get through difficult times. Since then, she started the Tri Terminator Foundation which helps struggling youth and aims to initiate a conversation surrounding addiction.
“Before I was an advocate and before I wanted to talk about it, I didn’t talk about it. And honestly, it just about killed me.”
Breault saw the effects that addiction has on a family while growing up with alcoholic parents. Alcohol, however, became her own coping mechanism after going through some traumatic experiences in her childhood.
“I didn’t have the understanding that I do today … I didn’t realize it would be a relatively slippery slope for me to begin drinking,” she says.
At 18 years old, Breault found herself in Alcoholics Anonymous for the first time for what she describes as a transformational experience.
“To end up where I’ve ended up is truly, I feel, only by the grace of God and these beautiful people that have been woven into my life,” she says of her recovery.
Breault was involved in sports like figure skating, volleyball and basketball as a child. It wasn’t until just over a decade ago that she started running and it helped her through some difficult times.
“I noticed the difference in myself, in feeling down, defeated or depressed and I’d make myself go for a run even when I didn’t feel like it,” she says.
“And then I would come home and feel like ‘Holy … Okay, I can do this.’”
She wanted to help others after noticing that the feeling of accomplishment after a run was positively impacting her life.
And so, in 2015 Breault created Tri Terminator, a foundation that helps youth recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. The foundation uses physical exercise as a way to help people with their recovery. The participants train for triathlons and running races.
“I gravitated towards the triathlon, especially the Ironman, because it’s grueling. It takes everything you’ve got,” she says.
A group of coaches lead the participants through the three components of the triathlon: swimming, cycling and running. These days, they meet up to swim twice a week and go for runs on Saturdays.
The level of intensity varies between participants and their individual goals, but they don’t need any prior experience.
“Even last year we had a couple of guys that did the half Ironman, and they couldn’t even swim when they started,” Breault says.
“And then a few short months later … they did the 70.3 Ironman.”
Breault remembers one of Tri Terminator’s success stories, Sam.
“There would be days, honestly, where we’d finish a swim coaching session and that kid would be hitting the liquor store after.”
But last June, he completed the 70.3 Ironman and now he is almost nine months sober.
“He is now just on fire for ultra-distances, he’s really got a passion now for running crazy ultra-distances.”
Breault has big dreams for Tri Terminator. “The biggest goal is [global] … taking this message globally.”
Breault’s eldest daughter, Carissa Peterson, has high hopes for Tri Terminator.
“I think it would be cool to see it be put into school programs … and then outside of that I would just like to see it in recovery programs in the province and country,” she says.
“And then it just be one of those things when someone is struggling with addiction and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I have this program.’”
Angela Shilliday is the director of business development for Tri Terminator. She jokes about the first time Breault approached her with the idea.
“I just thought, ‘I know nothing about Ironman … and frankly don’t want to do it either, just so you know!’”
But she saw something in Breault’s idea and knew she wanted to be a part of it.
“That’s how it started. It was an idea and she wouldn’t let it go,” Shilliday says.
“If she gets a no, she’ll take that advice, but she’ll find a way to prove them wrong and I think that’s how she made it through her own recovery and how she’s helped other people as well.”
Breault hopes that by telling her own story, others will feel that they too can open up.
She remembers the moment she realized that she couldn’t stay silent any longer.
“It was literally reading the story of someone else not being silent … and I was like, ‘Did she just say she’s an alcoholic? Did she just say that out loud?’” she recalls.
“From that moment on, it was almost like I wanted to put that on my resume … this is my life, this is my story, this is my journey, this is what it looks like.”
But Breault explains that the label can be debilitating.
“You might have all of these degrees, but as soon as you let them know you’re an alcoholic, it’s over,” she says. “You lose all credibility and that’s wrong.”
Since then, she’s learned not to hold back.
“She’s so willing to tell her story, put all of her life experiences that most people try to cover up and hide … she’s the opposite,” says Shilliday. “She encourages people to just own it. There’s no reason to be ashamed, it’s an illness.”
Overall, Breault hopes that her work will allow people to feel more comfortable talking about addiction.
“We should be given the freedom to be open with these things,” she says. “These are real struggles, we all have them, they just look different for everybody.”
- By Alaina Shirt