Jason Kusiak spends late winter and early spring long-lining for cod and haddock, and most of the year catching lobster. Fishing in some of America’s oldest seaports near Gloucester, Mass., gives Kusiak an appreciation for the area’s rich history, and a healthy respect for those who made a living fishing the Atlantic in earlier times. He relishes the hard work, excitement, and competition of constantly driving at something, and “with fishing, you can see the direct result of your work ethic,” he says.
Also, the waters seem to provide the environment for a thoughtful transition. Kusiak is the first to admit that his career plans are still evolving, and that, at 33, he’s not sure what lies ahead. He states with conviction that he always wants to be growing, and “to be present” in his own life in order to experience much and maintain great relationships. Oddly enough, a few years ago, he wondered if he would live to be 27.
Very active as a youngster, Kusiak had earned a black belt by age 9 and had placed first at nationals. In high school he played football, basketball, and lacrosse. He pushed himself to excel. But at the end of his senior year and on the eve of a big recruiting summer for lacrosse, a high school party became the proverbial “fly in the ointment.” Racing through the woods in the dark with a friend, Kusiak ran into a fire-road steel gate, resulting in a double-compound fracture of his leg and the shattering of his elbow.
Kusiak became addicted to painkillers, and it was a struggle not only to discontinue use of opioids but to obtain help from insurance companies to do so.
He eventually sought help and treatment at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. Shortly thereafter, he learned about the StepUP® Program, Augsburg’s residential collegiate recovery community, and he began his studies in 2006. “That fellowship of walking through this together” (in the same residence hall as other students dealing with substance abuse) made academic success much more likely, and Kusiak felt as if the “whole school bought into it and that’s why Augsburg is unique.” He is especially grateful to StepUP’s director Patrice Salmeri and former director Dave Hadden and to professors John and Peggy Cerrito for the “great impact” of their entrepreneurial class, particularly the focus on learning through experience and connections.
As he looks to the future, Kusiak “can’t wait for what’s ahead.” He reflects on his immense gratitude for family and friends who have stood with him. He is pleased that fishing has allowed him to save up some money and even invest for the future. He is also pleased that, today, there is much more education and understanding about substance use and abuse, and he believes this will lead to access of treatments that really work. This is one of the primary reasons he has chosen to be open about his experiences.
Most of all, he is passionate about wanting to connect more with people in ways that allow him to give back, particularly in giving hope to individuals and families who struggle with substance use. From someone who once thought going a half-day being sober seemed like “mission impossible,” he says that living now—in the way he has chosen to live—is “nothing short of a miracle.”
—Cheryl Crockett ‘89