Story by Gabrielle Deckelman
Photos by Taylor Elliot
Alcohol was Aaron Porter’s addiction. Now, in a way, he’s addicted to running. Some call it an addiction, he calls it recovery. Porter, a 43 year old non-traditional public relations student at the University of Oregon, will run the length of Japan as part of his efforts to spread recovery to others.
“I’ve had this draw to go to Japan,” he says. “There’s something compelling me to go that direction. I’m not really a spiritual or religious guy but there’s some sort of draw that’s like I’ve got to get there and figure out why.”
Porter first came up with the idea to run across Japan for a video project in an advertising class. He produced a video titled “See Aaron Run,” explaining his intent to raise money and awareness for the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami victims as well as his reason behind running. Months later, he posted the video online and it received immediate attention. He then felt he had no other option than to follow through with the plan.
Not only does Porter want to help the victims of the tsunami, but he also wants to help suffering alcoholics. Sobriety has been a key element in Porter’s life since 1998, and he hopes to carry out the theme of alcoholism recovery throughout his journey.
“It has been termed running is an addiction, but I kind of switched it around saying running is my recovery,” Porter says. “Now it’s not just for me, I can do it to help somebody else along the way.”
Though he has yet to decide which organization he wants to raise money for, he thinks that Habitat for Humanity might be a good fit. “Habitat for Humanity is building some homes, and one of the ideas is to basically get people out of the shelter,” Porter says. “There are still hundreds of thousands of families in shelters and this is four years later. So I was thinking that maybe we can get a family and get them in a new home.”
Porter plans to begin in January of 2016, running on average 20 miles a day. He will start on the south side of Japan in Kanagawa and reach Tokyo to run the Tokyo Marathon in February. Porter wants to arrive in Fukushima on March 11th for the anniversary of the tsunami and finish in Hokkaido, the eastern part of the island, in April.
Porter hopes to have a support vehicle which he can chase throughout the day and plans on staying in small hotels and hostels. Considering he will be done earning his public relations degree by the time he begins, he’s been using some of those strategies to plan his trip. Porter is going to be blogging, hoping to capture the stories of locals he meets along the way.
“If I can sit there and blog then that way you can actually see the expressions on my face, how I’m really feeling,” Porter says. “There are going to be moments where I just feel like shit, there’s going to be moments that are super hard and super challenging and there are going to be moments where it’s going to have that wonderful moment of amazing accomplishment.”
It wasn’t until Porters now ex-wife started training for a marathon that he became interested in running. He found that through running, he was able to spend more time with his wife. Porter finished his first marathon, the San Diego marathon, in 2005 and has ran in multiple other marathons such as the Portland, Eugene, Victoria, Salmon Idaho, Pacific Crest and Boston Marathon. Though he has competed in many road races, he spends most of his time pursuing his love of trail running.
“It just gives me a spot where I can go forever and allow me to think about everything that’s ever happened in my life, which is at this point a lot,” Porter says. “It just gives me an opportunity to sort through everything, it’s my own therapy in a sense, without having to pay someone to go sit in an office for an hour and spill my guts.”
Running wasn’t always Porter’s therapy. He got involved with drugs and alcohol in junior high as his two older brothers influenced these actions. “I started getting high at ten years old, so I started early,” Porter says. “I bought my first ounce of home grown weed when I was 10 years old, 1981 in southern Oregon.” Drinking became a daily ritual for him around 1992 or 1993 by starting off his morning with Kahlua in his coffee. Quickly, the only thing on his mind became was when was he going to get his next drink.
“I just loved being hammered,” Porter says. “Not completely hammered to where I am shitty, but enough to where everything was just fun and happy and I was usually the happy drunk.”
Eventually, Porter was told he was going to party with his brothers and ended up at home for an intervention. He found this day to be the hardest part of the entire recovery process.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over time it’s to listen to the people around you as much as you can,” Porter says. “Don’t take stuff too personally because sometimes they are just trying to help and sometimes it doesn’t help. It never hurts to listen and when I mean listen it’s like listen and absorb and really take in the information you are given because sometimes there is going to be a little nugget out of all of it that is just going to hit home and really mean something to you.”
After Porter said goodbye to drinking, running became a dominant activity in his life. “I call it my recovery,” he says. “Running is my 12 step program. It’s like my therapy when I’m out there. If I’m out there alone for three or four hours, it gives me a chance to, if I’m thinking about a million things at once, it gives me the time to get it down to one thing at a time and just filter it and when I get done with the run it’s like I’ve got a clear head, I can start over.”