Scott Searle is known as the “Yo-Yo Man” because he runs long distances while slinging the colorful toy down to the ground and “around-the-world.”
His tricks while moving are impressive, as are the 13-18 miles he logs on a daily basis, but perhaps his greatest maneuver has been going from drinking 30 beers a day to living a clean and sober life for almost nine years.
The yo-yo plays a small role in his success. But really, it’s the running that’s saved him.
“Without running, I would not be alive today,” the 40-year-old from Davenport, Iowa said. “I would not have a relationship with my child, and I would not have a good relationship with my parents.”
And to think, it all started when Searle made one life-changing decision at his local YMCA, opting to not slip out the back door and head to the bar, but rather to hop on an elliptical machine instead.
A Birthday Coma
Searle didn’t grow up playing sports. He was “clumsy,” as demonstrated by the fact that the one time he did play soccer, he got twisted up in the net as a goalie.
By the time he was 19, he was using alcohol and drugs to cope with crippling anxiety and depression. He grew to love cocaine, but purchasing alcohol was a lot easier and cheaper than buying the deadly stimulant.
His drinking was so out of control that on his 30th birthday, he was in a coma for four days after hitting a telephone pole while riding his bike with a backpack full of beer and pocket full of Xanax.
“I was the guy who drank 25-30 beers a day. I would wake up at 2:00 a.m. if I passed out at 9:00 p.m. from drinking all day, and crack some more beers,” Searle said. “If I had to be at work at 5 a.m., I was waking up at 3:30 a.m. so I could drink before work.”
After he got his second D.U.I in 2008, his parents dropped him off at the YMCA every day because he convinced them that he was working out in an effort to get healthy and start anew. Really, he would walk right through the building and out the back door to go sit in a bar downtown.
A couple of months into the routine, something struck Searle one day.
“I’m not sure why I decided not to walk out the back door that day,” he said. “I was like, ‘I’m here. I should try exercising.'”
So, he got on an elliptical machine. What he didn’t know is that machine would be the catalyst for a major lifestyle transformation. He noticed that after the workout, he didn’t want a drink. So, he went back to gym the next day and opened up his sweat glands again, starting a new trend.
Using exercise, Searle got to a point where he had been sober for almost a year, but he wasn’t exactly satisfied with his efforts in the gym.
“I’d be on the elliptical going at it, looking at myself in the mirror, and I felt like I looked like a complete goofball,” he said. “I noticed people running on the treadmill, and it was a nice fluid movement. When they got done, they were smiling, and I decided I wanted to do what these people were doing.”
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Searle jumped on a treadmill. At first, he couldn’t run for more than 30 seconds, so he’d run for that length of time and then take a two-minute walk break. Then, the run-walk interval flipped and he was running for two minutes with 30-second walk breaks.
Progress: It’s a Beautiful Thing
As Searle was running a few miles at a time on the treadmill, one of the women working the front desk at the YMCA asked if he wanted to run the Turkey Trot.
I said, ‘No, that’s not really my thing. I don’t like crowds and social stuff like that,’ and she said, ‘Just hop in from the starting line once the race gets going, and hop out just before the finish line,'” Searle said.
When Searle realized on Thanksgiving morning that the YMCA, a place he visited two to three times a day because it was his lifeline for sobriety, was closed, he had to do something to calm his brain and his body.
So, he jumped in the 5k Turkey Trot as a “bandit,” and loved every minute of it. He was bit by the racing bug. Six months after the Turkey Trot, he did his first half-marathon. A few months after that, he did his first 26.2-mile race. The next year, he upped it again to a 50k followed by a 50-mile run for charity.
Today, a race with mileage in the triple digits isn’t out of the ordinary for Searle. He completed the 100-mile Turkey Trot from Milwaukee to Chicago with the Chicago Flatlanders in 2016 and has plans to return to this year’s race.
As for what he loves about the sport, it’s the ultrarunning community.
“I can run into an aid station for a bandaid for my foot, and the volunteer will take off my shoes for me, massage my feet a little, bandage me and put my socks and shoes back on for me,” he said. “The ultrarunning community is invested in getting everybody to that finish line, and other runners tell you what strategies work for them because they want to see you succeed.”
The Yo-Yo Man
While Searle’s addiction to running isn’t new, his yo-yo is.
At the beginning of his sobriety, he bought one on a whim and put it in his dining room drawer, where it stayed for years and years.
“One day, I wasn’t too motivated to get out of the house, and I opened up that drawer for some reason, and saw the yo-yo,” he said. “I put it on and threw it a couple times, and I thought to myself, why can’t I go run with the yo-yo? It will keep my mind occupied.”
And that’s what it’s done. In the beginning, he would throw the toy once or twice a minute. Now, he flings it every five seconds.
“To see the smiles from people in cars, I can’t put it into words,” he said. “A simple yo-yo has had such an impact.”
But, don’t let the yo-yo’s impact fool you. Searle is leaving a more substantial mark in other people’s lives.
He started Food for Thought, a two-year-old meal program that feeds the homeless in downtown Davenport. The idea was inspired by seeing homeless individuals while he was running.
“I was out running and saw all the unfavorable conditions of street people,” Searle said. “It started with an idea in my head. Then I called my friend to take me to the grocery store to get ingredients to fix a warm pot of chili. I then asked him if he would transport me, my card table and pot of chili to a cold corner in downtown Davenport in early January…Then I called another friend, and asked if she would like to get in on this one-man movement. She said yes, so within one evening, we started our group of faithful volunteers. It’s just a thought in a runner’s head turned into a movement.”
And it’s a movement worth talking about. Today, Food for Thought has about 30 volunteers who rotate through local homeless shelters, offering warm meals and smiles.
“I still have dreams about drinking. I’ll walk by a bar and think, wow, that looks so good to me,” Seale said. “But, I know I can’t have a single drop. Running and Food for Thought have changed every aspect of my life.”
Now, those two endeavors are his satisfying “drops,” and ones worth savoring for years to come.