Nick and Shane Sterner: Like Father, Like Son
By Kara Lavengood
The 700 Club
Running a marathon is a feat in itself, but even moreso for Nick and Shane Sterner. Not long ago, they were getting high on drugs together.
Nick remembers, "One of the most powerful memories I can have is sitting there receiving a text message on my phone and it’s Shane saying, ‘Dad, what happened to our family?'"
"You could either get higher and forget about it, or you could just let it completely devastate you. We decided to just keep going about doing what we were doing. Ignore it," says Shane.
A father and son.
A friendship forged by drugs
A family headed toward destruction.
Nick could trace his drug use back to his troubled childhood.
"My drug was marijuana. I got so addicted to it that I had to have it constantly," he says.
Nick ran away from an abusive stepfather at age 13. After living on the streets, he was taken in by a new “father-figure," one who gave him drugs to manipulate and abuse him.
"By this time I’m thinking I’m not going to be a father, I don’t know what it means to love or be loved,” says Nick.
Despite his vows, at 22, Nick became a father himself when Shane was born.
"You know, I looked at him and for the first time, I knew I was needed. I certainly knew what it meant instantly, instantly to love. I decided at that point that if I was nothing else, I’d be a father," Nick remembers.
Nick married the mother of his son and navigated fatherhood and marriage the best he could.
“Karen [Nick's wife] and I struggled through the relationship and finally when he was about 4, I left her,” he adds.
Nick took Shane with him.
“I and my father were always very close. We were always real close. I remember when I was very young; he’d take me with him everywhere,” says Shane.
Going everywhere also meant, “seeing everything” including Nick’s drug use.
“Smoking marijuana was something to me that was so much a part of what I did that I wasn’t hiding it. It was just there. You know, I constantly had it with me," says Nick.
“Some of my earliest memories are of parties, biker parties, and band practices that lasted for like two or three days at a time because everybody was doing various drugs and partying. It just seemed normal to me. It was my life," says Shane.
It wasn’t long before Shane decided to experiment with drugs too.
“I hit a stage of rebellion and at the same time, it was also entitlement. I felt like my dad was doing it. I had grown up and saw it, and I was around it, so I felt like I had the right to do it too,” he says.
While Shane began to self destruct, Nick decided to get clean. He’d lost a business because of his drug use, and he was going through his second divorce.
“Most people at that point will turn to drugs and will turn and I said, 'I can’t, I’ve done that all my life, and I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t do it anymore,'” says Nick.
Nick’s difficult journey toward sobriety began. He started running to get his body in shape.
"I said if I’m going to build my life again, I’m going to have to do it on the foundation of health. And I began to run fanatically for the next few years. By 2002, I had placed second in the masters division in the state of Colorado. I was placing in every race ran, and I was doing great," says Nick.
Meanwhile, his son sank deeper into drugs.
“I was probably 15-years-old when I started doing coke. And at that point in time I was also doing ecstasy and LSD. I had started selling marijuana. I was out partying with my friends. My dad wanted me home. I didn’t want to come home,” says Shane.
Shane disappeared for days at a time. Nick would go search for him.
"He’d come find me, and he’d drag me back home, and I would leave again, and he’d find me, and he’d drag me back home,” says Shane.
Eventually Shane disappeared. This time his father couldn’t find him.
"I had got involved with the methamphetamines underworld in Denver. I guess I got better at hiding or I wasn’t even really hiding anymore,” adds Shane.
Nick was desperate to reclaim his son. In trying to do the right thing, he made a bad decision. He convinced himself that re-entering the drug world was the only way to get to his son back.
“I gave up my sobriety. I decided I was going to got into the tunnel to find Shane, to get back into the world I had known when I was younger,” says Nick.
Nick thought he was strong enough to resist the lure of the drugs.
“So, going in, I also saw coming out. But I saw doing everything necessary to come out with Shane,” says Nick.
Sadly, Nick became addicted again.
“The only thing I started using was meth. It grabbed a hold of me stronger than I ever thought it would," says Nick.
Shane heard his dad was using again...
“He was completely sober for about six or seven years. I was so proud of him, so when I got that phone call telling me he had had started using drugs again, I was devastated. I contacted him for the first time in probably a year and a half, and I called him,” says Shane.
The father and son reunited, and soon they were doing drugs together, just like old times.
"I started selling him drugs and next thing you know we were getting high together. You know, my connections became his connections. We ran in the same circles, he became very involved in my criminal life,” admits Nick.
Then, a run in with the law stopped them in their tracks.
"It culminated in Shane being arrested for possession, and he spent 10 days in the Denver city jail," recalls Nick.
A stint behind bars was just what Shane needed to turn his life around.
“That’s when I got saved. I got saved in an eight foot by eight foot jail cell," says Shane.
He continues, "This guy came, and he started talking about Jesus, and the forgiveness of sin and everything else. It hit me so hard I fell to my knees. I just remember sitting there crying and balling like a baby. I felt like Jesus was sitting there cradling me right then and there. You know, confessing every sin that I could think of that I ever committed. That was it. From then on I was like, 'Okay, now what do I do? I need to learn how to apply this to my life. I need to learn how to take what I’ve been through and move forward.'"
Shane knew he had to get clean. He decided to enter “The New Life Program,” a Christian-based rehabilitation program at the Denver rescue mission… on one condition.
“Shane said, 'Well, it’s contingent on you joining me,' “ remembers Nick.
Nick agreed to enter the program “for the sake of his son.”
"For three months, I thought that I was there for Shane," says Nick.
"And suddenly it made sense. It hit me like a lightning bolt that if I didn’t build my life on a foundation of faith that it was nothing worth having."
"It hit me in a flash, but it took me time to process it, to process everything I had been through and to fall to my knees myself and to accept Christ as my Savior. It wasn’t without fear and trembling that I did it. It wasn’t me that did it at all. I was saved by grace."
From that point on, both father and son left their lives of drugs behind. They depended on God for help to stay clean.
"I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now if it was not for my dad going through the recovery process with me," knows Shane.
"Really at times we were carrying each other and at times, it was God carrying both of us, bringing us together," adds Nick.
While going through rehab, Nick also started running marathons again, this time with Shane by his side.
"I know for me, it’s meant the world, for Shane to embrace it, for us to do it together," says dad.
"When I embraced recovery, running ended up playing a huge part of it," says son.
Nick and Shane started a non-profit organization called AIR, or “Activity Inspired Rehabilitation.” They based it on their belief that running can help get addicts on the road to recovery. Ttoday, they’re running with men going through the same rehabilitation program that gave them hope.
"I think it’s great going out doing something with someone who’s been down the same roads that I have. And seeing them and how they have recovered and you know, it gives you hope that you can do it yourself," says a runner from the Denver rescue mission.
There may be a long road ahead for this father and son, but it is one filled with hope.
“What He’s done with my relationship with my son, just once again, I just thank God for the power of restoration and redemption. And it reinforces hope for the entire family and knowing that through Christ, we can all become that vision of hope that exists in the innocence of a child’s eyes," says Nick.
“No matter how impossible it seems to change, you can change if you really want to. You know, if you really find that purpose, you can definitely change.
Since accepting Christ, I feel that light inside of me, and it’s brighter than ever," believes Shane.
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