NBC New York
Among the 47,000 participants in this Sunday's ING New York City Marathon, you'll find runners who have overcome illness, injury and more. But it would be hard to top the mountain climbed by Rob Vassilarakis of the Bronx. Andrew Siff has his inspirational story.
Rob Vassilarakis was a crystal meth addict for nearly 15 years. Estranged from his parents, he was homeless and struggling.
Now, he's about to run the New York marathon for the second time.
Vassilarakis's recovery began at a drug counseling center in Harlem called El Faro, which means "lighthouse."
"For many of us who have walked through these doors as a client, this has been a port in the storm," said Vassilarakis, who is now a counselor at the center. It's part of the larger group of nonprofits known as Harlem United.
"After a 10- to 15-year crystal meth addiction, I really needed to heal," he said.
Now, he's a spoken word poet, a counselor and a runner. He's inspired dozens of friends to sponsor him for Sunday's race, his second marathon after a 2010 debut.
He trained for this year's race by running through the East Tremont section of the Bronx, as well as Washington Heights, Inwood and parts of Riverdale.
"For me it's been an opportunity to reclaim my city back, because I run through those same streets and those same neighborhoods that I was self-destructing in. It gives me life," he says.
"I hope I can inspire others to start doing more of the same and start doing things that are pro-health and pro-life," he said. "Running is like a metaphor for life. I like to think that's how I'm facing the challenges in my life today. Whereas before I ran from them, now I'm running into them, running toward them. To face them."