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The reigning champ in the Bismarck Half Marathon remembers a time not so long ago when mornings began with an alcohol-induced fog, not award-winning race finishes.

Three years ago, April Lund was more than 60 pounds overweight and struggling with the disease of alcohol addiction. A successful student athlete in high school, April said her healthy lifestyle took a backseat in college when she had her first drink. Soon, she was drinking frequently and drinking a lot.

“I would drink so much that I’d black out, and my friends would have to tell me the next day what happened,” she said. “I’d wake up and drink to feel better and just thought that was normal.”

For too many addiction sufferers, that misunderstood normal is not unusual. While more than 20 million Americans suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, most do not realize they have the disease and only 10 percent seek help in a given year.

For Lund, the road to recovery included falling back in love with running and by helping others to do the same.

In 2015, Lund met her future husband, Jeff, and was inspired to stop drinking.

“He never said anything, but I could see the disappointment in his eyes and knew I wanted to quit," said Lund, who quit cold turkey.

And that worked until it didn’t.

“I’d go back and forth between drinking and not drinking," she said.

Then she upped her commitment to regaining her health by joining Gold’s Gym. She soon found her way back to running and set a personal goal — run the Bismarck Half Marathon in September.

“I called my dad to tell him I was running again,” she said. “He was so proud of me.”

Though Lund trained for the event and had shed 20 pounds, she doubted herself. The months leading to the race were a rollercoaster of emotions — she lost her dad during that time and then was married two weeks before the half marathon.

“I was struggling with my sobriety,” she said.

Her doubts faded when the starting gun fired race morning.

“I smiled and cried for the first 2 miles. After being so scared to be here, I just felt so good," she said.

Toward the end of the race, the miles added up and Lund struggled, but she pushed through, surprising herself with a second-place finish — about 15 minutes behind the first place woman, Denise Kaelberer — and a vision of what she might accomplish the following year.

“I thought, ‘I can do that. I can run that fast. I’m going to win this race next year,'" she said.

And she did. In 2016, Lund crossed the half marathon finish line in first place with a 1:29 finishing time, a mile pace that was a full minute faster than the previous year.

"I walked away with such a wonderful feeling of accomplishment and purpose. I knew I did the work; I knew I earned it," she said.

She never looked back. The drinking stopped and as her training increased, Lund found the career she was born to do — help others find their paths to recovery and wellness. Lund left her job in sales to become a personal trainer.

With cheerleader-like enthusiasm, Lund has a natural ability to inspire others to find their inner strength to conquer that which stands between them and their better selves.

In addition to a full slate of clients at Gold’s Gym, Lund created a local track club designed to help community members of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities come together to run and support one another.

The club — GYS — has blossomed to more than 100 members. GYS is an acronym for Get You Sum, as in get you some motivation, courage, strength, friendships and awesomeness.

One of Lund’s personal training clients and track club members, Diane Bergquist, said she considers Lund her personal angel.

“She changed my life and changed my world,” Bergquist said.

When Bergquist first met Lund, she was overweight and had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. What’s more, she was juggling her full-time management job with caring for her mom, who was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer, and her husband, who was trying to recover from back surgery.

“I was trying to hold everyone up and could not even hold myself up,” she said. At age 49, she was exhausted.

When Lund asked her new client what her goals were, Bergquist zeroed in on a number on her scale.

“I told her I wanted to lose 85 pounds," said Bergquist, who soon learned that Lund’s goals for her clients are loftier than a number on a scale. “She was brutally honest with me and challenged me to really think about what I wanted to be doing with my life.”

One of the goals they chose was from Bergquist’s bucket list: get healthy enough to run a 5K before her 50th birthday.

Soon, Lund encouraged Bergquist to join the GYS Track Club.

“I’ve never run a day in my life and was nervous,” Bergquist said.

The nervousness soon melted into determination. As she pushed through her first 100 yards on the track, she was greeted with joyful cheering.

“It’s an amazing group. We all cheer each other on. It’s not about who’s the fastest or who can run the longest. It’s about being there and how you feel when you’re done," she said.

For Lund, the team is the epitome of her prescription for wellness.

“The support and motivation the club provides creates an atmosphere where people can step outside their comfort zones to do things they never thought possible," she said.

Lund successfully ran her first 5K last fall.

“April was there pushing me and cheering for me. It was an incredible experience," she said.

Lund can be seen most weekends cheering on her club members, pushing them to achieve their personal goals.

“I will do anything to help somebody,” she said. “When I look in their eyes and see they are working hard, I feel so very blessed to be here.”

Though pounds were not the primary goal, Bergquist still managed to drop a pile of them. She lost 85 pounds and successfully moved her blood pressure and cholesterol into the healthy territory.

“I’m going to be 51 in December, and I’ve never before felt this healthy. Honestly, I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do," she said.

As hard as Bergquist worked to reach her goals, she gives much of the credit to Lund.

“She’s taken a group of people that have nothing in common and brought them together into this amazing group that anyone can be part of. One person can make such a difference in this world," she said.

Lund and more than 1,000 other runners toe the starting line 7:30 a.m. Saturday at Cottonwood Park. For racecourse information, visit thebismarckmarathon.com.

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