Professional triathlete Justin Birks is a winner wherever he competes.
Since pulling himself out of the downward spiral of drug and alcohol addiction, every day is a good day for the 32-year-old Penticton resident.
So whenever he participates in a race, regardless of finishing in the money or not, it is a huge personal victory.
To celebrate his new lease on life, Birks has committed to a cause dear to his heart that he recently connected with through his sport.
The non-profit Not for Sale and More than Sport organizations were created to combat human trafficking which includes everything from prostitution to child slave labour, locally, nationally and world wide.
“When I came out of my addiction struggles, renewed by my Christian faith, I just saw the world from a different perspective,” said Birks, who has committed to raising $1,000 this year by donating 10 per cent of his winnings.
“I came across literature on human trafficking and how rampant it was and I just wanted to do something.
“I’ve just always had a big heart for children and I did some mission work for kids when I was a teenager.
“It’s kind of always been there but I didn’t really start pursuing it until this year when I realized how rampant the problem is.”
In his most recent race, the Peach Classic Triathlon, he finished in second place overall.
Birks recalled growing up in Penticton and catching Ironman fever at a very early age, largely from his father’s participation in the event.
He eventually went on the kids circuit where he had considerable success but at the age of 14 decided to switch to hockey.
He also did well in that sport reaching the junior and university level and even tried out for a semi-pro team but unfortunately the lifestyle took it’s toll.
At age 26 he found himself hooked on drugs and booze but things changed in 2008 when he sat in a restaurant listening to his father and uncle talking about their glory days of Ironman.
“I remember the conversation vividly,” said Birks.
“It was during that conversation between them that my heart came alive again and I remembered the joy that I felt when I competed as a kid.”
At that point he decided to clean up his act, registered for the 2009 Ironman and enlisted the assistance of two of the sports icons, Kevin Cutjar and Olly Piggin, to whip him into shape.
Despite his nervousness at the start line of that race, Birks clocked a time good enough for 36th place overall and first in his age division.
He won his first race as a pro on Vancouver Island. In 2013 after deciding to trade in his tools as an electrician for running shoes, a wetsuit and a two-wheeler.
It was also a pivotal year because he married his wife Jocelyn who he says is one of his biggest supporters.
Birks now looks forward to a bright future and hopes to be able to give others that same outlook.
“Just to help the men, women and children who are affected in slave-like conditions. Just to give them some dignity and a chance to live out their lives with some value and give them an opportunity to pursue what they’re passionate about, just like I was able to when I was a kid,” he said.
Anyone who would like to help Birks in his quest can visit his website for more information, www.justinbirks.com.