An Addict Runs To Recover

In 2008, Adam Osmond hit bottom.

He was a gambling addict. He lost his two stores in New Britain, where he used to play thousands of dollars worth of lottery tickets a day. When he told his wife and his family, he was ashamed and depressed. He wasn't healthy. He took a leave of absence from his job as an accountant and ended up leaving the position.

"I went through a lot at that point," said Osmond, who lives in Farmington. "I went through hell."

He went into a gambling addiction treatment program. That helped. But then he met Charlie Merlis. Merlis wore shirts from road races to meetings. Curious, Osmond asked him about the shirts. Merlis told him that he should come run a race with him.

And that's how Osmond, 46, traded one addiction for another. In 2011, he finished his first 5K race in just under 40 minutes, and not only did he think he was going to die that day, he couldn't imagine that people actually ran farther distances than that.

On Sunday, he will run an ultramarathon, the Lake Waramaug 50K (approximately 31 miles) in New Preston. He hopes to finish in about 5 hours and 30 minutes, approximately 10 ½ minutes per mile, which is faster than the pace in which he ran his first 5K three years ago.

"Running is a great addiction," said Merlis, of West Hartford. "You can throw your heart into it and you know you're not hurting yourself."

Osmond, who is from Somalia, came to the U.S. to go to college when he was 17. He went to Central Connecticut, and when he got a job at a convenience store, that's when he started to gamble.

It started off small, $1 and $2 lottery tickets. But it grew. He graduated. He worked as an accountant. He got married, had children. He bought two convenience stores. And that's when he started to play more and more. He kept the tickets in the back room of one of the stores to hide them from his wife.

"It's like being an alcoholic and having your own bar," he said. "It's in front of you all the time. Whatever I'd win, I'd put it back."

In 2007, he won two $25,000 prizes. He cashed one, got $17,000 and put it right back into more tickets. Then he did the same with the other one.

When the bottom fell out, it was a tough time for Osmond and his family.

"I was financially in bad shape," he said. "Health-wise, too."

He gained a few more pounds in the gambling treatment program, where they would sometimes celebrate successes with food. Then he met Merlis and his life changed.

"He said, 'There's a race in North Haven,'" Osmond said. "I had never run before. We went there. I wasn't dressed for running. I had long sweat pants. Tennis shoes. We line up. I took off."

"The first two-three minutes, I was passing everybody. I'm thinking, 'What's going on? I'm feeling good.' All of a sudden, it hit me. I thought I was dying. I finished in 39:20-something. It was 39 minutes of hell. Honest to God."

But he went back for another one. He started to train with Merlis. Eventually, he stopped going to the gambling treatment program. Running was helping him recover.

He lost weight. His blood pressure and cholesterol went down. And he got faster.

"Today, you can't even compare his times today to 2011," said a running friend, Richard Zbrozek. "Now his times are incredible."

Zbrozek and some others had started a movement with a goal of running races in all 169 towns in Connecticut. He broached the subject to Osmond. Osmond joined up, embraced it and started a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account for what's known as DEBTIConn (Do Every Blessed Town In Connecticut) or the Run 169 Towns Society. Osmond is a visible ambassador at races for the society, appearing with a Run 169 banner, taking pictures of members and posting them on social media and encouraging new people to join. There are now more than 200 runners in the group.

"The man has a lot of enthusiasm," Zbrozek said. "And that has really shaped our society."

He can now run a very respectable 22-minute 5K. He has run two marathons. He is healthy. He is back working for the state as a fiscal administrative agent for the Department of Economic and Community Development.

He is happy. So is his family.

"It was a shock to [his wife] in the beginning," he said of his gambling addiction. "We have three kids. We stayed together. We worked it out. Now they are very happy because they see I'm doing something that makes me happy. Running motivates you in a lot of different ways in your life."

"Before, I was playing numbers and I used to do the analysis. Now I have different numbers — pace, splits. It's just a win-win."

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