Road to Recovery

Someone You Should Know: Olympic gold medalist shares journey to sobriety

Someone You Should Know

Riley Salmon’s greatest win in life was not in 2008, when he helped lead Team USA to the gold medal at the Olympics in Beijing. It was 22 months ago when he conquered the addiction that nearly conquered him.

“When I wake up, I’m grateful,” Salmon says. “I open my eyes and I smile.”

Salmon shared his story this week at Recovery Reinvented in Bismarck.

He says his first exposure to abuse and dependency came when he was a young boy in Texas. “I told myself I would never be like my father. But lo and behold, I turned out pretty similar to him as far as the fight with addiction and alcoholism.”

He grew to be a gifted athlete, and as an adult, he trained with Team USA. In 2004, 2008, and 2012, he represented his country as an Olympian. He won the gold in 2008.

Riley Salmon was on top of the world. It was just months later that he started down a road that almost killed him.

“In that moment, I started drinking a lot,” Salmon recalls. “Taking a lot of pills.”

He says at first, he justified his use of drugs as a means of staying competitive. “To deal with injuries that I had — that’s when I was introduced to opioids,” he says. “Just to continue my career. I played five or six years on narcotics, all the while manipulating doctors — several doctors — to get me more prescriptions.”

He says it led to the end of his volleyball career. He sold is gold medal at a pawn shop for cash in 2016. And not long after that:

“I was sitting at the edge of my wife’s bed looking at my son and I said ‘I’ve gotta go get some heroin. That’s the only thing that’s gonna work.'” he recalls. “Fortunately I called my mentor. He talked me out of it. Told me that I needed to stop thinking.”

So began a months-long journey to recovery and sobriety. Now, Salmon is the head men’s volleyball coach at the University of Jamestown.

His message to blossoming athletes is this: don’t try to go it alone. “As human beings, we need help,” he says. “If we’re deciding to pursue an athletic career, we need help. I feel that a lot of times I tried to do this by myself. I couldn’t. Once I started asking for help, my entire life changed.”

That’s why Riley Salmon — 22 months sober, and shaping young lives — is Someone You Should Know.

Salmon says he’s extremely grateful for the chance to coach at the University of Jamestown. The men’s volleyball season starts in February.

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