By LAUREN McGILLVRAY
There was a time when, desperate for his next fix, Shawn Davies would break into a run on the way to his dealer’s house in downtown Toronto. He’d hope for cocaine but if that wasn’t available, he’d take what he could get. Davies still runs Toronto’s streets, but now he pushes toward a different destination, with the legs and lungs of a healthy athlete.
“I like running through the rough parts of the city, like Moss Park or Regent Park,” says the 34-year-old. “You can see the dealers, the kids playing basketball — it’s real life and I can feel the city breathe.”
It’s a Friday night and Davies, who now goes by the name Clear Sky, is talking openly about his past. We’re sitting at a café inside a gym at Richmond and Bathurst, where he answers questions patiently. He smiles warmly and often.
“I remember being at work at my welding job and I’d say to myself, ‘I’m not going to my dealer’s today.’ But before I knew it, I’d finish work and then I’d be on my way there, cursing myself. Once I had it in my hands I’d feel relieved and then I wouldn’t feel guilty because I’d be high.”
Clear Sky grew up in Peterborough and moved to Toronto in 2001. Over the next nine years, he did a bit of running and boxing but his addictions took over. It was winter when he lost his welding job. And with no money and no idea what to do next, he went to his parents’ home in nearby Bowmanville.
His sister convinced him to try a rehabilitation program in Elliott Lake, which was hard at first. Hellish even. But once he got through a week of detox, he embraced the 21-day program and quickly took a leadership role among the others in the program.
“We had a sharing circle and we all had to say something we were thankful for,” he says. “About 20 people said they were grateful for me, and I cried like a kid. I wasn’t used to people saying such nice things about me.”
Once out of rehab, he joined a gym and started competing in Muay Thai fighting. He also started running marathons and without goals or a program, ran a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. He clocked three hours and 15 minutes his first time through Boston.
Over his next few races, he got his time down to 2:56. When he crept back over the three-hour mark, he decided to join Black Lungs running club.
Clear Sky considers the Black Lungs to be like family. The group’s 26 members are all sub three-hour marathoners — including Clear Sky, who posted a personal best 2:40:44 last year in Chicago.
“I’m not an elite runner, but racing gives me a sense of what I can achieve,” he says. “This is the result of an everyday person finding something they love and pursuing it the best they can in their situation.”
He continues to work toward healthy goals. He lives with a roommate in Parkdale and was able to get his old welding job back. He also works part-time at Black Toe Running store. He’s training for Boston and finds time for fun — he recently modelled in a fashion show.
Torontonians can often spot Clear Sky running from Parkdale down Queen Street and chasing the streetcar, or darting and weaving through backstreets and parks.
“When I see the drug dealers and addicts, I see people who are open with their struggle,” he says. “I’m on the other side now but I’m still facing my struggle. I don’t see an end, I just keep running.”