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12/28/2023 by Barbara Huebner

Resolution for 2024: Celebrate 30 Years of Sobriety, One Event at a Time

If "the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step," as the Chinese proverb has it, then Joel Gould's journey into 2024 to celebrate 30 years of sobriety by doing 30 events will begin at 10:30 a.m. on January 1. That's when he plans to toe the line for Atlanta Track Club's Resolution Run, an annual 5K, Mile & Dash that kicks off the New Year.

But it really began on April 19, 1994 - the day he quit drinking.

"I knew pretty early on that I did not drink like everyone else," begins Gould's blog. "Somewhere between high school and my first attempt at college, I became a drunk."

After a two-year stint in the Army, Gould came back to Atlanta and carried on drinking, taking a busboy job that gave him his mornings free to sleep it off. Eventually, his father hooked him up with a mailroom job, where a co-worker one day told the bleary-eyed young man, "If you are an alcoholic, stop drinking and get help." She went a step further and made an appointment for him at a rehab facility. He kept it, and never drank again.

Which is definitely not the end of the story.

At some point during the same year in which he began attending meetings and became sober - he can't remember exactly when, or precisely why - Gould began running.

"It probably stemmed from, OK, if I stop drinking then I need to start getting healthier," he said recently. "At the time, running was probably the easiest thing to start doing."

It also helped fill the void of not going out to bars with his friends until 2 a.m., which he continued to do even after he quit drinking. He was young, after all, and that's where his friends were going. Always, said Gould, he was afraid he would miss the "best time ever" if he didn't go with them. But soon, it became less fun. The same thing, the same jokes, the same bar, so there came a time when he realized he had to quit that, too.

Joel Gould at the 2019 AJC Peachtree Road Race

The idea to start running didn't come from out of the blue: As a student at St. Pius X, Gould was a four- year member of the track team and recalls being "vaguely fast." He even set a school record in the triple jump despite, he has written, being "the worst possible athlete for this event." Now a Decatur resident, he said that his first road race was almost certainly the Peachtree: "I grew up here in Atlanta. It's positively my favorite race of all time."

In the fifth year of his sobriety, Gould looked around for a new challenge and did his first short triathlon. A few years later, in 2002, his name was picked in a lottery for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, which he finished in 13:28:51, well clear of the 17-hour time limit. More recently, he has competed at Atlanta Track Club's All Comers meets and in USATF Masters championships in - wait for it - the triple jump, earning a few medals along the way.

Meanwhile, he rose from mailroom clerk to heading the marketing team, and eventually purchased his own business, the brand-marketing agency Carrot + Stick. Fittingly, the company does extensive work with Powerade and Body Armor.

None of this occurred in a vacuum. In both the events and the sobriety, he's had people alongside him all the way, most notably his wife, Michelle, whom he met at a meeting in 2000 and married in 2003. He's hoping that she, as well as many of the other people who have touched his life since that day in 1994, will run, walk or climb with him at some point this year.

"Thirty years is a long time to stay sober, and it's worth celebrating," said Gould, 53. "I'm trying to make it more about all of us than just me."

First up will be Kelly Walsh, who plans to do the Resolution Run with him to help launch the 30/30 adventure.

"Joel has an enthusiasm that's infectious and he wears his passions on his sleeve," said Walsh, a Decatur city commissioner and longtime member of Atlanta Track club who has known Gould for about 15 years. "His story resonates with me because my father was an alcoholic who didn't get straightened out. Joel's gotten to maximize his potential by getting sober and staying sober. He wants to do big things for the community, and as a member of the community I get the benefit of his commitment to that journey."

Besides, Walsh added, "if you're doing something cool, he'll be the first to jump on," so she's happy to do the same for him.

Also on Gould's list of planned races are the Publix Atlanta Half Marathon, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race, the Invesco QQQ Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon, Ironman Florida and the Ragnar Trail Atlanta relay, which falls on the weekend of his sober birthday in April and for which he's trying to assemble a team of friends with whom he got sober. An aptly distanced 30-mile ultramarathon will take him to Santa Barbara, California, where daughter Josie attends college. (His youngest, Gabi, is a senior at Decatur High School).

A few meaningful non-race goals are on the agenda, too: for instance, a climb up 10,926-foot Emigrant Peak in Montana, a favorite family vacation spot, and getting down to 164 pounds (30 fewer than he weighed on January 1, 2023) by March 15.

Through it all, Gould will be re-tracing his past while hoping to re-route someone else's future by raising money for Joe's Fund, a behavioral-health fund of the Decatur Education Foundation created to honor the life of Joe Bodine, described on the organization's website as a smart, kind, charismatic 2015 Decatur High School graduate who lost his battle with addiction in 2016.

"I knew in high school that I had a problem with alcohol," said Gould. "Maybe there's a kid there it helps. If it brings people together and can raise a little money for Joe's Fund then shoot, doing 30 races, that's the fun part."

There's still time to register for the 2024 Resolution Run 5K, Mile & Dash at Piedmont Park. Click here.