AKRON, Ohio — After about a decade spent grappling with drug abuse and time spent behind bars for drug-related crimes, James Anderson has reclaimed his life.
Now, as the owner of his own personal training business, he’s working to help others better themselves as he continues to push himself to his limits in celebration of his clean date every year.
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Sitting in the home he shares with his wife and cat in Akron, Anderson reflects on the beginning of his journey into drug abuse, starting at just 15 years old. From marijuana and alcohol, his addiction grew to prescription pills, heroin and crack.
After multiple stints behind bars for drug trafficking charges, Anderson caught glimpses of what life could be without using. In prison, he was able to focus on physical fitness, and explore new activities, such as drawing, without the distraction of drugs.
“I felt, like, very alive in there,” he said of his time in prison. “Whereas out here, I just felt like this zombie.”
Eventually, Anderson reached a breaking point at 25, sitting in his car on a side street, waiting for a dealer to bring him heroin.
“I was super dope sick, and I felt super hopeless and desperate and weak because I was so dependent on this person just to get through my day,” he said.
From there, Anderson dedicated himself to recovery, attending 12-step meetings and eventually building up a network of people who supported him and wanted him to succeed.
“It was this desire for a better life, really,” he said. “I just felt like this wasn't what my parents had planned for me, you know, and there's got to be a better way.”
On October 14, 2013, Anderson became clean and has been ever since.
“Back then, I didn't - I didn't feel like I made choices about how I spent my day like the drugs did, the addiction did,” he said. “And, now, today obviously I get to make my own choices. I have freedom from that, and it allows me to dream and to accomplish great things.”
When Anderson sets out to accomplish “great” things, he means it. He marks his clean date with a new physical challenge for himself every year, seeing how far he can push himself and what new feat he can accomplish.
For example, he’s hiked Trolltunga in Norway, ran a 50-mile ultra-marathon, completed eight hours of burpees during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in October of 2022, summited Mount Kilimanjaro.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was a particular challenge after he failed his first attempt at making it to the top for the five-year anniversary of his clean date. Anderson said he attempted the first climb without the help of a medicine used for altitude sickness, which other climbers widely used in his group.
“The medical team pulled the plug on my climb, my blood oxygen was 48%, and I was like blue. I was not in good shape,” he said.
While the defeat was devastating, Anderson trained harder for 2022, determined to achieve his goal.
“The only way I could cope with it was to decide, ‘okay, I'm coming back, I'm gonna do it again,’” he said.
Due to travel delays from COVID, Anderson wasn't able to return until 2022, finally making it to the top. A milestone not only for himself, but for his family, who stood by and supported him throughout his journey.
“I put my mom through the wringer. She was at every single court date, she would come and visit me,” he said. “After the Kilimanjaro climb, my mom called me, and she's like, ‘all the sleepless nights were worth it. I knew that you were meant for great things.’ And it was like the most impactful conversation I've had with her. It meant so much.”
Anderson’s dedication to pushing his own boundaries is something he hopes to instill in the clients he trains through his personal training business James Anderson Ambition, though he realizes everyone’s goals may not be as extreme as his.
“I've been really interested in pushing the boundaries of what I'm capable of and trying to pass that out along to other people, and really help people smash through their own limiting beliefs and become the greatest versions of themselves,” he said.
And he doesn’t stop in the gym. Anderson has also pursued businesses in event and wedding rentals, as well as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
For Anderson, these accomplishments are just the beginning. He dreams of becoming an author and speaker one day, sharing his experiences with others. For 2023, the 10-year anniversary of his clean date, he has plans to run a 100-mile ultramarathon.
So what keeps his ambition alive?
“I'm an addict, so I mean, I think that it's just the way my brain works today,” he said. “I was very, very dedicated to destroying myself for many years. And so today, you know, I think deep down a part of me is still trying to catch up for wasting a decade of my life.”
“I understand that time isn't, you know - it's a rare thing, and it's not guaranteed for me,” he said. “I overdosed twice in my drug-using days. And I don't want to waste a minute of what I have left.”