Former Heroin Addict Turns Around Life, Qualifies for Ironman World Championship

By Epoch Inspired Staff
Epoch Inspired Staff
Epoch Inspired Staff
Epoch Inspired staff cover stories of hope that celebrate kindness, traditions, and triumph of the human spirit, offering valuable insights into life, culture, family and community, and nature.
July 25, 2021 Updated: August 18, 2021

A former high-school drug addict has proved that nothing is impossible if one is ready to face the challenges head-on.

Noel Mulkey, 26, from Oklahoma, who became sober six years ago, finished Tulsa’s first Ironman Triathlon on May 23 to qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii later this year.

Rewriting his life story all the while combating severe heroin addiction and then breaking free from the trap of overeating and finally making it to an international athletics platform, the young man hopes to inspire others not to give up on their dreams easily.

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Noel Mulkey, 26, from Oklahoma. (Courtesy of Noel Mulkey)

Mulkey got into drugs at a very early age. He began using marijuana and drinking alcohol in eighth grade, reported In The Know.

“It started going from kind of a weekend thing to literally every day I needed to find something,” he told the outlet.

At the age of 16, Mulkey was completely addicted to drugs and was using intravenous substances. Moving to college, his addiction was beyond control. He was frequently stealing his mother’s jewelry to pay for his daily quota of drugs.

At one point, he was spending $500 a day on his heroin addiction; at the peak of his addiction, he couldn’t go beyond a couple of hours without doing drugs, according to the report.

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Noel Mulkey got into drugs during high school. (Courtesy of Noel Mulkey)

Mulkey—who after becoming sober learned he had bipolar disorder—said he was drawn to drugs in high school in his attempt to snap out of the bullying and setbacks he experienced in his school days. During middle school, he used to play sports to work off such emotions, but the high school had no sports teams.

“I was never able to be properly diagnosed and had gone to years of therapy, seeing different therapists,” he told the outlet. “I tried all these different psych meds, and nothing was working except me doing what I was doing.”

“Without properly being medicated, this was me self-medicating.”

At the age of 20, his family got him into a rehabilitation center in Florida, but his situation didn’t change. “I ended up spending like a year in Florida, and none of it worked,” he said.

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Noel Mulkey finished the 2021 Tulsa Ironman Triathlon on May 23 to qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. (Courtesy of Noel Mulkey)
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The medal Noel Mulkey received at the 2021 Tulsa Ironman Triathlon. (Courtesy of Noel Mulkey)

At some point in his life, seeing how drugs affected his life and his family, Mulkey decided to change for the better. With the help of a psychiatrist, he seriously began his journey to sobering up.

“When I finally chose to get sober, I chose to get my life together. That is when I finally detoxed,” he told Today. “It was the most pain I’ve ever been in, detoxing.”

Withdrawing from substance abuse wasn’t easy; he then found himself hooked on another addiction: food. He replaced the urge to take drugs with overeating. At his heaviest, he weighed 198 pounds.

“I just had nothing. I was not in college anymore. I was finally off drugs but I had no aspirations, no nothing,” he told Today. “I was just very depressed. I ate a lot and hated the way I looked.”

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Noel Mulkey’s motto has been “exercises saved my life.” (Courtesy of Noel Mulkey)

Born to athlete parents and having played soccer at his middle school, Mulkey knew he wanted to get back into shape. To keep his weight under check, he turned to exercise and running, making up to 60–70 miles a week. In the first four months, he managed to shed 59 pounds (26 kg) of weight.

“I kind of switched addictions. I 100 percent fell in love with running,” he told Today.

Over the next several years, Mulkey trained and participated in several races, including multiple Olympic distance overall wins, and held the All-American Triathlete title from 2016 to 2021.

In May, he finished the 2021 Ironman Tulsa Triathlon in 9 hours, 25 minutes, and 1 second, landing a spot in the world championship in Kona, Hawaii.

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Noel Mulkey now hopes to inspire others to live their best lives and never give up. (Courtesy of Noel Mulkey)

Currently, the brave Oklahoman continues to train and coach others like him who are seeking help during their darkest days of life.

He shares his training sessions on TikTok, where he has more than 750,000 followers, hoping that he can make a difference by helping someone turn their life around.

“I look forward to waking up every day and training,” Mulkey told In The Know. “It’s obviously a lot more healthy addiction.”

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Epoch Inspired Staff
Epoch Inspired Staff
Epoch Inspired staff cover stories of hope that celebrate kindness, traditions, and triumph of the human spirit, offering valuable insights into life, culture, family and community, and nature.