SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — While athletes compete on the world stage in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, people from around the world are putting their physical abilities to the test.
For a Northwest Arkansas man, it’s his disability that’s pushed him to accomplish more than he ever has.
Chris Doane lives in Springdale. The 51-year-old spends his days out-and-about in the community, talking with really anyone who crosses his path.
The Chris who loves to get out of his apartment and socialize is a stark difference to the Chris who battled with a drug and alcohol addiction for decades.
“I always thought that [the drugs] would make me better and make me fit in and make me do all, but it didn’t. It ultimately isolated me,” Chris said.
What began as smoking some pot when he was 15 turned to harder drugs, like methamphetamine and heroin, and this drug use continued for more than 30 years.
Chris said, “it took away everything in my life. Took away my friends, my family, everything. I ended up homeless.”
On top of his addictions, he’s a diabetic. Pair the two together, and Chris lost a lot more than just years off his life.
In February 2017, he had to have a portion of his left leg removed.
“I didn’t take care of myself very well and I stepped on a nail and I got an infection in my bone and so I had to have 5 amputations to get to where I’m at today,” Chris said.
Even after his amputation, the drug and alcohol abuse continued, until a few years later when he ended up in the emergency room yet again.
This time doctors told him he had a lump on his colon and was in sepsis.
“When I went in, [ER doctors] told me that I was going to die,” Chris continued, “they had told my parents that I had a few days to live.”
“His father and I were discussing funeral arrangements,” said Chris’ mother Kathleen Smith.
Chris is Kathleen’s first-born child. She said the news she received from doctors that night, was news she had dreaded, but expected, for years.
“When the telephone would ring, I would really worry if it was the cops coming to tell me or an accident or the hospital,” Kathleen said.
Chris didn’t die though.
“Three days later I came to and realized I didn’t want this anymore and that was it.”
And, that was it. It’s been almost three years since he has taken a sip of alcohol or done any drugs.
After years of living impaired and isolated, Chris found a new purpose in living differently-abled.
He decided he was going to do something he’d never done before; participate in a 5K.
“I think I had to become disabled to become able to have a life.”Chris Doane
In April 2020, he competed in his first race, the Hogeye 5K.
“I know without a shadow of a doubt if I hadn’t have lost my leg, would I have ever ran 5k in my life,” Chris said.
While others ran beside him, Chris pushed the 3.1 miles in his wheelchair.
“There was a lot of other people there and it inspired me to go faster because I didn’t want other people to think that I was in a wheel chair that I was going to come in last,” Chris said.
And he didn’t come in last. In fact, he did better than he imagined.
“I placed 54 out of 96 in my age group,” Chris continued, “which means I beat 42 people with legs which is pretty cool.”
The 51-year-old even broke the goal he set for himself, to finish the race in 45 minutes or under. He finished in just under 44 minutes.
But he didn’t accomplish his first race alone. Alongside him was his 12-year-old son Quincy.
“During the race, I thought it might be embarrassing to get passed by him, but now I’m actually thinking that whenever you get passed by him you’re like, wow, this guy’s passing me,” Quincy said.
Quincy was in awe as he recalled his father competing in the Hogeye 5K.
He remembers a time when his dad was able-bodied but, “just sat there not doing anything, kind of just letting himself just rot away.”
Chris’ mother also remembers that time, but she too is astonished by his transformation over the last few years.
“He is becoming the man that I thought he always could be, that was somewhere inside him. He is blossoming,” Kathleen said.
The man he has blossomed into is one whose mission is to motivate anyone of all abilities.
“I want to show everyone, not just people in wheelchairs, that you can get out and do stuff cause I didn’t for 48 years of my life,” Chris said.
For the last several months, he’s been training daily to compete in future races. His goal is to get more events to be wheelchair inclusive so others, like him, will be more likely to compete.
Quincy said, “everybody needs their own division, right? And I feel like it’d be cooler for him to have a division because if there’s not a division, I feel like not a lot of disabled people will come.”
Chris’ next event? The Razorback Run Half Marathon in mid-September.
He’s dedicated to competing in that one, and many in the future. He’s even eyeing a marathon.
And when Chris sets his mind to something, he makes it happen. Because there was a time when he didn’t live up to even his own expectations.
Chris is now determined to be a man of his word.
“I wouldn’t talk to my mom if I was loaded so I didn’t talk to her for a couple of years. Now I can say I told my mom the day I got sober that I would call her every day and I’ve called her every day for 32 months,” Chris said.
With a huge smile on her face, Kathleen said, “he has called me every night to make up for all the nights he never did.”
“My friends and family do not see me as Chris in a chair anymore because I’ve developed into this person that I am. I am Chris and the chair is just my legs.”Chris Doane
The man who suffered in the dark for so long is going the distance to ensure he’s the bright light for others who’ve had to lose something to gain a whole lot more.