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Formerly homeless and addicted to drugs UGM graduate to run Scotiabank half-marathon; raising money to help others

Vancouver, BC—Scotiabank half-marathon runner Brendan McLellan is a man on a mission. This time two years ago he was a struggling homeless addict with a suicidal goal. Now, through the June 26, 2011 run, his mission is to raise awareness and funds for Union Gospel Mission programs—programs like the one that changed his life.

A few years ago Brendan began a 15-day, $12,000 sleepless binge of drugs and drinking that was supposed to climax with him jumping off the Pattullo bridge.  Providentially, before heading to the bridge, he was arrested. In desperation, Brendan checked himself into an institution, but it wasn’t long before he was released on probation, and once again homeless, angry, suicidal, and steeped in addiction.  

This certainly was not the life that Brendan had begun with. Growing up in a single-parent household in New Westminster had its struggles, but Brendan recalls a very happy childhood, thanks to a close relationship with his mom and two brothers. He played every sport imaginable. He dreamed of being an Olympic boxer. He went to college.

Through sports, however, Brendan was introduced to alcohol. “I always loved liquor. My friends were basically all alcoholics; as teammates, we partied together all the time.” After graduation, he worked at a liquor store, and then got into management. In his 30s, Brendan’s mom was diagnosed with cancer.

“For five years I watched my best friend slowly get eaten away by cancer—first in her pancreas, breast and then esophagus.  When she died, a huge part of me went with her. I felt cheated and angry. I didn’t want to deal with any of it.” Instead, Brendan began drinking constantly, even at work. A friend introduced him to cocaine.

“I went on it like there was no tomorrow,” he says. And it wasn’t long before he watched his life erode. “My future wife went, then the job, then the apartment. I couldn’t even be a father to my newborn son. I found myself on the street. I just gave up. I didn’t even care. All I wanted to was to go away.”

On April 29, 2010, with thoughts of his two-year old son plaguing him, Brendan believed he needed to either change his life or end it. “I had tried to quit dope so many times,” he says. “Sometimes it lasted a day; sometimes an hour. I felt hopeless. Will this be my life? Dying on the Downtown Eastside?”

Wandering around the next day, Brendan ended up at UGM. He recalled that they have a recovery program. “I looked up at the sign and thought I’d better give it one more try rather than do what I was planning.”  

Three days into the program, the reality sobriety affords began to sink in. Brendan began to feel extreme guilt and remorse over the pain he had caused his fiancée. He says he realized then that he had never cared about anyone but himself.

“I talked to an outreach worker and we prayed for God’s mercy and healing. After that day, everything changed and I never looked back.” Never missing a class, Brendan graduated from the program in September 2010 and remains clean and sober.

While at UGM, Brendan rekindled his love of running. “The first time, I thought I would run from UGM to the Gastown Starbucks, just to see if I could do it. I just about collapsed when I got back, but it felt good.” Since then, Brendan has been building endurance and increasing his distance. So when the opportunity to run in support of UGM arose, he jumped at the chance.

“If it weren’t for UGM I would either be on the streets or more likely, dead,” he says. “I didn’t just recover from drug and alcohol abuse; I learned to live a new life. I have hope and a future, and I want this to be available to more people.”

“Nobody decides to end up down here,” says Brendan, referring to the Downtown Eastside. “If you’re addicted and you’re here, this is your last stop.”

Union Gospel Mission has been feeding hope and changing the lives of men, women, and children for over 70 years. Through its 9 locations in
Metro Vancouver and the city of Mission, UGM provides counseling, education, safe housing, and alcohol and drug recovery to those struggling with poverty, homelessness, and addiction. The heart of the mission is to demonstrate God’s transforming love, ease the burden of the most vulnerable, rebuild the lives of the broken, and offer dignity to those who feel cast aside. UGM is a proud member of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities and the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions. To find out more, visit www.ugm.ca.