Often times, sports are an escape from our everyday lives. By watching or playing the game, sports are a way we can look past our daily struggles just for a couple of hours or so. Yet, many athletes carry their personal conflicts on the court or field with them.
Christian Griffith is one of them. The 47-year-old, ultra-endurance athlete carries the weight of childhood sexual abuse he started experiencing at age 13 every time he goes to work out.
“For me, my first abuser was my own mom,” Griffith said. “A lot of times at prevention, you’ll hear people tell kids, ‘If someone is touching you or doing something inappropriate, tell somebody.’ You could have told me point-blank, but I wouldn’t have equated my situation at home with that.”
Griffith is now raising awareness of child abuse by running 3,000 miles across the country for Run2Heal, a project for the Help for Children (HFC) foundation. He also hopes to raise $1 million through donations to prevent and treat child abuse.
Griffith was also abused by a number of men throughout his life. He kept this to himself for the past 30 years, and through rigorous workouts, would “calm the demons” in his mind.
“When [I’m] fatigued and when I’m really tired is when I’m finally calm,” Griffith said. “I’m constantly pushing the envelope; harder and harder things.”
Eventually, Griffith moved to Atlanta to pursue a career in advertising and to move on in life. While living there, he found that through running he could keep himself at peace.
“I started with 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, marathons and moved into ultramarathons,” Griffith said. “Then obstacle courses like Spartan Races and Tough Mudders.”
By doing these runs and races, he went all the way to Australia to participate in the 80K Survival Run Australia. It was there when his life changed.
“I met a guy named Damien Rider in Australia who had this organization called Paddle Against Child Abuse,” Griffith said. “He was a big stand-up paddleboarder and he was trying to break a bunch of world records for stand-up paddleboarding as well as do these survival runs. I saw him as this beast of a man and I got to know him, and he started telling me about these stories of his child abuse and why he was doing what he was doing.”
While he listened, he did not share. On the plane ride back to the U.S., that was the only thing he could think about. He landed in Los Angeles to board another flight back home to Atlanta. On that flight, he decided to text him.
“I started to text him and I’m like, ‘You know what? I’m going to tell him my story,’” Griffith said. “It was really hard for me, I was sitting there bawling on the plane. By the time I landed in Atlanta, I felt like a hundred pounds was lifted from my shoulders.”
The two went on and worked together, including running around the entire island of Phuket, Thailand for a National Geographic documentary called “Heart of the Sea.”
“I started doing interviews there and talking about my sexual abuse,” Griffith said. “But I’m doing this in another country for National Geographic Australia and I felt a little bit safer doing it there.”
He eventually moved again to Nicaragua and left the corporate world to begin doing website work for a wellness resort.
“I felt safe there, too,” Griffith said. “And all of my communication with the rest of the U.S. was through social media.”
Through his personal Facebook account, he typed out his story about his sexual abuse.
“I told my story; I wrote it out and posted it on Facebook,” Griffith said. “I’m like, ‘Here world, this is me,’ and as soon as I hit send, I was like, ‘Holy sh*t, what did I just do?’”
In under 24 hours, Griffith received 157 messages from people sharing their stories.
“I didn’t realize there was an army of us out there,” Griffith said. “I’ve been hiding from this for 30 plus years; there are millions of people that this has happened to. Whether it was in their family or it was a family friend, and when I saw this, I knew something had changed in me.”
Since coming out about his sexual abuse, Griffith also competed on a number of television shows while telling his story.
“I was on American Ninja Warrior,” Griffith said. “I did the qualifiers in Atlanta, and I unfortunately fell during them. I was then cast onto a show called ‘The Selection,’ and they brought 40 athletes to Los Angeles and they put us through 16 days of various military training type of challenges.”
Griffith was one of four people who completed the event. He explained that while on “The Selection,” they would use your weaknesses and exploit them.
“During times when we were really weak after they had put us through a real strong, physical beat down, they would then come and get us and put a hood over our heads,” Griffith said. “They would walk us around for a little while, and we end up in this room where they would question me, and I wanted to prove that your past doesn’t have to also be your future.”
On March 19, Griffith began his 3,000-mile journey across the country with a five-mile run in Riverside Park, New York.
“I’ve always had this idea,” Griffith said. “I was doing a run in the British Cayman Islands and Help for Children was establishing a chapter there, so we connected while we were there. Fast forward to a couple of months later and I pitched them this idea and we’ve been planning it for the past ten months.”
Griffith plans on running 30 miles a day, five days a week, for the next five months through 12 different states. On March 20, he ran across the George Washington Bridge and ended up in Montclair.
“I want to be that voice for the men that is talking about it loudly and getting others to talk about it,” said Griffith. “I want to raise the awareness and grant money for the prevention and treatment of child abuse.”