Live To Tell program at TAHS
JOE PLASKO/TIMES NEWS Tim Rader details his personal story of his plunge into drug addiction during his Live To Tell program, which he presented to Tamaqua Area students recently.
At Tamaqua Area High School, home of the Blue Raiders, another Rader delivered what could be a life-saving message.
As a teenager, Tim Rader was much like the students who were sitting in their seats, watching him speak from the stage of the school district's auditorium.
At the former Cardinal Brennan High School in Fountain Springs, Rader played quarterback for former Panther Valley star Pete Radocha, who coached the Chargers at the time and who, ironically, would later patrol the sidelines on Stadium Hill.
Rader was popular with his peers and active in the school community, even scoring the lead in the school's plays for three years.
With a bright future ahead of him, Rader veered off course and into the hell of substance addiction.
He had to compose himself as he detailed how he wound up in a Philadelphia crack house, a gun pointed at his own head, ready to take his own life.
Somehow, Rader found the inner strength to put down the gun, get the help he desperately needed, and turned his life around.
Now drug-free, Rader discusses his addiction and recovery in a program called Live to Tell, in which he shares his message with teenagers, who are at a time in their lives when they are at great risk of falling into the destructive patterns of drug use.
Recently Rader presented his program to Tamaqua High and Middle School students.
"This is an opportunity for our school district to be proactive in our approach to drugs," said Tamaqua High Assistant Principal Steve Toth, like Rader a Cardinal Brennan High graduate.
"Tim is from around here. He came from a good home. This shows it (addiction) can happen to good people, too. It can happen to anyone."
Rader, who now resides in Baltimore, Maryland, has been involved in the field of prevention as a statewide trainer and public speaker for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board on topics ranging from responsible services to binge drinking on college campuses.
He is focusing on his own program for high school students in response to the increase in teen fatalities stemming from a lack of awareness of the perils of substance abuse and addiction.
It is the myth of the "invincible teen" that Rader hopes to puncture by the telling of his harrowing story.
Rader's vivid description of his stay at the crackhouse is a cold slap in the face.
Television shows often depict what it is like, and it does a realistic job, but there are some things it can't reveal.
"They don't capture the smell. It makes you want to vomit," said Rader. "They don't capture the fear. The people in there are waiting to die, and no one cares whether you live or die."
Rader's descent into drug use actually began while he was battling a tougher opponent than any who had tried to tackle him in the gridiron.
"My senior year in football, one day I had a bad feeling, and I felt a pain in my chest," he recalled.
That pain turned out to be cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which he fought through surgery and chemotherapy. During his treatment, he became introduced to painkillers.
"With cancer comes pain and a lot of it," explained Rader. "The doctors prescribed percocet. It not only took away the pain but the feeling that I might die at 17 years old."
Addiction itself was personified as Rader discussed his downward spiral.
"It's a living, breathing animal. It's a demon," he stated. "As soon as you tie your emotional needs to a drug, it will stand there and watch."
Rader recovered and went to college, where he became, in his words, a yes man. He began using cocaine, but cleaned up his act as he graduated and took a job as a representative for a pharmaceutical firm in New York. He stopped using, had a job, and was engaged to be married.
He was a success and had beaten the drug game. "I felt invincible," he said.
Or so he thought.
"Addiction will let you skate, will let you have your fun for awhile, the more he can take away," remarked Rader. "I lost the game before I even had a chance to play."
One day, he stole boxes of pain pills out of a closet. He took them all. Hello, addiction.
"Now it had me," he said. "Addiction took away the ability to choose."
Soon, Rader was a shadow of himself, looking like he lost 20 pounds overnight. He began hanging out where he could buy drugs. A stranger in a car showed him how to shoot himself up.
"I was a heroin addict wearing a suit," he mentioned.
One day, when he was to accompany his girlfriend Danielle to her parents' home to discuss their upcoming wedding, she found him in the shower. Tim had overdosed and collapsed in a pool of blood from a vein that had exploded.
When Rader woke up in the hospital, a black box with his engagement ring was on the table next to his bed. He never saw Danielle again.
"I lost everything," said Rader, sadly. "I lost my job, my self respect. Members of my family wouldn't even look at me."
He made it to Philadelphia, where he slept in any car he could open before winding up in the crackhouse.
"I sat in the crackhouse, with the gun to my head. I saw my life, frame by frame," recounted Rader.
Something inside him made him put the weapon down. He left the house, crying and walking around, until he found a police officer. Rader begged him to be arrested, to be locked up.
Instead, the officer was able to get Rader into the rehab he so desperately needed. He was able to detox and went through the pain of withdrawal.
"I was taken to the Parent Foundation, and they told me, 'we're going to love you until you love yourself'," said Rader. "I shook for 30 days. I didn't sleep for 10 days straight."
Rader's life was saved, and now he wants to return the favor.
"Each and every one of you has a niche the world is going to need," Rader told his audience of Tamaqua Raiders. "I found out mine late. This world is going to need you."
He advised anyone who had heard his message to contact him if they felt they needed help.
"That's the key, reaching out for help," he emphasized.
"I don't think there's one person who doesn't know someone whose life hasn't been touched by this," said Toth. "If we can help one person with this, we've done our job."
For more on Rader and Live To Tell, visit www.timrader.org.