At age 21, California native Zac Spowart ('14) had a "back problem." "The courts were on my back, my parents were on my back," he laughs, echoing a play on words he once heard from Chuck Rice, a regional vice president of Hazelden Betty Ford. "I couldn't stay out of trouble," Spowart says. "I needed help." That help came in the form of recovery and sobriety, along with a multitude of "patient and caring people who chose to assist me in my journey." Once he sought treatment for alcoholism, "my back problems started to get better," Spowart says. "I began to relate to others and their stories. I knew I wanted to do more. To be more." For Spowart, being in recovery fuels his drive to help others live their best lives and discover what feeds their souls. At age 34, Spowart is living his best life, filled with travel, outdoor adventure, spending time in nature and finding ways to continuously learn. His highlights reel includes training as a helicopter pilot, traveling to 49 states (and multiple countries), completing two Ironman 70.3 triathlon circuits, snorkeling with whale sharks near Isla Mujeres, scuba diving in Mexico's caverns and underwater free-diving with Galapagos sharks in Hawaii. The best part? He's done it all sober. Finding his calling It took some serious soul searching for Spowart to find his professional calling. He attended four junior colleges before receiving an undergraduate degree in kinesiology (with a pre-med focus) from Westmont College in Montecito, California. At five years sober, he had what he describes as a "quarter-life crisis." He had earned his degree but realized he didn't want to be a doctor, so he abandoned his original trajectory of becoming a pediatrician. Instead, he learned to fly helicopters and got a job in Florida taking aerial photos. That job, too, left him feeling empty. "I knew something had to change," he says. Shortly afterward, he accepted a position sweeping floors and taking out the garbage while working with individuals in early recovery. He connected with their authenticity and related to their stories. Working there, he says, felt like "home." It was then that he realized his calling—to help people struggling with addiction. The puzzle pieces fell into place following his epiphany. The one school on Spowart's radar was the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies, "the Harvard of addiction programs," as he puts it. He flew to Minnesota, toured the campus, loved the people and moved from California to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to begin taking classes. "From moving, to my housing, to my classmates, to my practicum, I knew I had made the right decision," he says. What was it about the Graduate School that appealed to you? I wanted to learn from the best in the industry. I also really valued on-site learning, small classroom settings and the large variety of practicum options. I was able to get my master's degree in a short period of time. What were your impressions of Minnesota before you arrived? A cold climate, country folks, a boring place to live. To be honest, I was pretty ignorant. What were your impressions as a graduate student and resident? Living in Minnesota was a tremendous blessing on my life. It has become one of my favorite places to visit. When I lived in Lindstrom, near campus, I rode my bike for miles through the countryside. I saw a bald eagle soaring overhead. I went to Minnesota college football games with my buddies and experienced the college football lifestyle for the first time. I experienced the smells of spring and all the gorgeous flowers and colors the season had to offer. I saw one of the best Fourth of July fireworks shows I have ever seen in Stillwater, over the St. Croix River. I swam in so many lakes I lost count. I went ice fishing and sat on the hood of my truck on ice over four feet thick! I met a stranger who ended up loaning me his boat to use for my birthday, simply because he wanted me to have a good day. I did a sober motorcycle ride with hundreds of others honoring recovery. I enjoyed watching the snow fall while studying with a nice, hot cup of tea. I rode rollercoasters at the Mall of America. I explored Minneapolis and St. Paul. I made tons of friends and had quality relationships. What was the process like to apply for your first job after your training was over? It was exciting! A friend of mine, who was also a Graduate School alum, got me plugged into a program in southern California [and it] kick-started my career. From there, opportunities continued to present themselves. Where are you working now? I own and operate a small Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) in Huntington Beach called Brightside Behavioral Health. I've been the case manager, driver and clinical/executive director before settling into the CEO role. Our desire is to stay small and operate within a niche of providing morning and evening IOP and OP treatment programming. It has been such a blessing to take what I learned at the Graduate School and apply it in a small, intimate, client-centered program. What advice do you have for other Graduate School students? It's okay to be scared. Trust the process. Your Higher Power, God, the universe, etc. didn't place you there to fail. You're there to learn, to grow and experience whatever you're meant to experience, however you're meant to experience it. More will be revealed! Be kind to those you meet. Get to know as many people as you can. We're all in this together. Study hard and soak it all up. Based on your education, people will look to you for direction and guidance in this field. You will be an industry leader. You have a responsibility to be ready. It's an honor and a blessing. How are graduate school and recovery similar to competing in marathons and triathlons? They're so similar! It's about the dream and the vision: The courage to take the first step and sign up, followed by experiencing the jitters and nervousness of "race day." From there, it's primarily mental. Keep a positive attitude, put one foot in front of the other, it's okay to fall, but ALWAYS get back up and keep going. If someone else falls, stop and ask if they're okay and help them up. Finishing the race is never worth it if it means stepping over others. So much of marathons and triathlons is about having fun. Celebrate the journey with others. At the end, it makes the finish line and that medal (diploma) that much sweeter.