OAKLAND -- Alex Wyse had already been through two rehab programs when he overdosed on heroin, combined with alcohol, days before his 25th birthday.
The overdose caused his kidneys to fail, and toxins pooled in the blood on his right side, killing nerves and partially paralyzing his right arm and leg. In the hospital, his doctors told him his addiction to drugs and alcohol would kill him before he turned 30. And when he left the hospital and began an insurance-mandated rehab program, he started using again.
He was high three hours after leaving rehab.
But that's just part of Wyse's story. Today, the 26-year-old is living happily and healthfully at the sober living facility House of Change and preparing for the Oakland Marathon. He was told about a year ago that he would never walk normally again. The preparation for the marathon helped Wyse stay focused and driven in his sobriety. It's a goal he made for himself that he's kept, one that brings him closer to staying sober. And he can't wait to run.
"I want to get a time around four hours," he said at House of Change, where he's been living for two weeks since leaving City Team, a partially locked-down sober living facility he stayed at for eight months. "Really, it's kind of a testimony to myself. The only one that can tell you you can't do it is yourself."
Wyse started using drugs and drinking as a teen. The death metal band drummer who loved sports upped the ante when he played in and worked security at bars and nightclubs. His time in night spots led to more drinking and drugs. Job loss and other problems followed.
By the time Wyse was 25, he had cruised blindly through two rehabilitation programs and experienced the paralyzing and kidney-damaging overdose that put him in a hospital for two weeks. He entered yet another rehab facility and finally went back to his room, where he got high again with a drummer's arm that wasn't working.
"I tried to get sober before, but I was (going through the motions) at best," he said. "If I could have been a fly on the wall that moment I was getting high, it would have been the most despairing, low moment of addiction you've ever seen."
Wyse said he "couldn't check the mail without getting high" in his hometown of Seattle, so he moved to the Bay Area and did his own physical therapy to get his arm and leg moving again. While working for a solar company, he was fingered in a residential burglary ring that he said he was not part of and spent six months in detention in Martinez. When he got out, he was homeless and living under a bridge in Pleasanton.
This was finally bottom.
Wyse called his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, who led him to Cherry Hill detox in San Leandro, which put him on the path to recovery at City Team. There, he heard about the Oakland Marathon and decided to start training while he practiced sobriety.
One problem: City Team doesn't allow its clients to wander more than a block from its facility on 7th Street across from an Oakland police station. So Wyse had to run the block, down 7th Street past the bail bonds stores, down Broadway past Sacred Tattoo, up 8th Street past Sign and Print Shop and up Washington Street past The GO Sports Bar. And in order to train for the 26.2-mile marathon, he had to turn those corners over and over again, often running the course 120 times in one go.
"The kid would run around the block, and we'd be in the kitchen, and we could see him," City Team resident John Coleman said. "It was like watching a hamster on a wheel. He would just keep running by, running by, running by."
To train for the Oakland hills part of the marathon, Wyse climbed the steps of City Team, running up and down the stairs 200 times per training session or climbing and descending more than 5,800 steps.
"I just wanted to be prepared for everything," he said. "If I had a clicker for the amount of laps I did around that block, it would have been in the thousands and thousands."
Wyse left City Team for House of Change two weeks ago and is now allowed to train around Lake Merritt, which he does nearly every day. He got blood work done three months ago, and the doctor told him he was a healthy 26-year-old with no signs of drug or alcohol addiction. His kidneys are healthy, too.
He's been sober for nine months, the longest since he was 13 years old. He said he'll probably never work in a bar or nightclub again, and he's distanced himself from drug-abusing friends. He is planning to study to be a certified drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor. Too often, he said, the speakers who came to talk to him about how their world ended with drugs and alcohol were in their 50s and 60s, and he didn't listen. He wants to be a young voice to young people about the dangers of addiction.
"If I could just help one person not go down the same path I did, it would be worth it," he said.
Wyse said he's going to push himself to run the full course, using songs by death metal bands Dissection and Dismember and the experimental rock of Godspeed You! Black Emperor for motivation.
"It has been a good goal, and it has kept me focused," he said. "Very few people can run a full marathon. You can do anything, though, if you set your mind to it."
What: About 10,000 runners from 30 states and eight countries will compete in the fourth annual marathon
When: Sunday; marathon starts at 7:30 a.m.; 5K at 7:45 a.m.; half marathon at 9:15 a.m.; kids run at 9:20 a.m.
Where: Races start and finish at Snow Park, 19th and Harrison streets