September 4, 2009 in City, News, Sports

New goal helps addict kick the habit

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Lyle Beerbohm launches a Thai kick into the pads of Rick Little at Sikjitsu last month in north Spokane. Beerbohm is a former meth addict and is now mixed martial arts fighter.
(Full-size photo)

The giant television takes up an entire wall of the master bedroom, and it is here that Gene and Sherry Beerbohm often come home to find their son Lyle and any number of friends watching replays of his mixed martial arts fights – reliving his successes, anticipating championships and enjoying an unspoken toast to a reclaimed life.

A few feet away through French doors and down some narrow steps, water dribbles from a pipe into an 8,000-gallon pond stocked with koi and goldfish, amid grasses and trees painstakingly planted and tended. It’s a cozy sanctuary years in the making and once postponed.

Seems the Beerbohms had stashed $900 to pay a backhoe operator to dig the hole, and Lyle stole the money to buy methamphetamine.

That was the night Lyle’s older brother, Rob, zigzagged across north Spokane, searching for him with a baseball bat next to him on the front seat. The night the Beerbohms again faced the grim reality of a son gripped by an evil addiction. The night Lyle took one more fall in a six-year spiral that saw him convicted of eight drug-related felonies and ultimately locked in a prison cell in Walla Walla.

There, he had the unlikely epiphany that finally detoured him off the criminal roundabout.

And into a different cage.

“Trading one addiction,” he admitted, “for another.”

Just two and a half years after his release from the Washington State Penitentiary, Lyle Beerbohm is undefeated in 10 professional MMA fights and is a rising star for Strikeforce, whose cards are a regular feature on Showtime. He’s part of next Saturday’s Arena Rumble at the Spokane Arena, just the second time he’s fought as a pro in his hometown, where he was a state-placing – but undisciplined – high school wrestler more than a decade ago.

If you go to the Rumble, you can’t miss him – he’ll be the one in the wild shorts sewn by his mother, the costume that’s given him a ring nickname (“Fancy Pants”) and another spliced connection to a family that could never quite give up on him.

“I hurt my mom and dad so much over so many years,” said the 30-year-old Beerbohm. “They gave me chance after chance and I kept on burning them, and my brothers and sisters were fed up with me. But I feel like I’ve earned their trust back.”

At least it’s a work in progress, like Beerbohm’s MMA career. Gene still confesses to some residual bitterness between the bursts of obvious pride, and both come out in the book he’s authoring – the details of which father and son occasionally battle over in more than five-minute rounds.

At the family home on College Road, symbols of the Beerbohms’ faith are prominent. Gene even taught Sunday school to Geiger inmates for five years, and as Lyle himself said, “It wasn’t like I wasn’t raised right.” The youngest of five children, Lyle’s outlet was wrestling – he was the first freshman from Rogers to make state in 1994, and placed sixth at 141 pounds as a junior after transferring to Mead.

But he also admitted to a lazy streak, both in training (“Guys would do 50 push-ups, I’d do them slow and do seven”) and the classroom. Needing a 2.0 to stay eligible as a senior, he pulled just a 1.9. And it was barely a year after graduation that he was arrested for possession with intent to sell marijuana – the first of his eight felonies. Then his meth use began and grew, and his rap sheet took on more convictions for possession, burglary, theft, vehicle prowl and domestic violence.

After each hitch, his parents would take him in for a fresh start; more often than not, the fresh start would end with Gene stuffing his son’s belongings into garbage bags and depositing them at the end of the driveway.

He remembered driving to the county jail at 6 a.m. to be there for Lyle’s release – only to be left sitting in a parking lot when Lyle decided to make a meth stop his priority.

“You can’t quit trying,” Gene said. “There were times when I wondered if I would be better off going to his funeral instead of to see him in jail, because the pain was too much. But that isn’t the way to go.”

One night, driving his girlfriend’s car, Beerbohm tried to elude police after a traffic stop, and a cornucopia of charges resulted in “a year and a day” sentence in Walla Walla, which he still views as “probably what kept me from being dead today.”

There was no court-ordered rehab. Beerbohm somehow managed to get and stay clean inside on his own.

“To tell you the truth, I’ve been to a class and you sit there and all they would do is talk about drugs,” he said. “The people you’re sitting with are people I didn’t want to be around anymore, and if you’re all sitting around talking about drugs, what’s that going to make you want to do? I think I’m strong-minded and once I make up my mind to do something, I get it done.”

This was even more evident when he saw an episode of Spike TV’s “The Ultimate Fighter” in the prison community room. Unaware until then that MMA had gone mainstream, his revelation was immediate.

“I knew I could do that for a living,” he said.

His father was not convinced until he and Sherry picked Lyle up at the prison in February 2007. Before they even reached home, Lyle insisted on stopping at a gym on Francis, where he talked his way into a workout against an aspiring fighter almost 50 pounds heavier – and held his own. Eight days later, he won his first amateur fight. He’s won all 22 of his fights, and only one has gone the distance. The others ended when his opponent or the ref ended it.

“What separates Lyle is his makeup,” said Rick Little, whose North Division gym is Beerbohm’s home base. “If you can’t break somebody in a fight, you’re going to break. These are skilled athletes, but they’re not all natural fighters. Things start going bad and they think, ‘Hey, live to fight another day.’ That never really crosses his mind. For him, it’s not die today.”

Which seems to mirror his transitional life outside the ring, to an extent. Beerbohm acknowledges that trying to make it in a brutal, adrenaline-high sport is not rehab in any conventional sense.

“I needed fighting to overcome my drug addiction,” he said, “something to put my time and focus into. But now I have my life back.”

It has not been without hiccups. Gene revealed that his son had near-lapse more than a year ago after running into an old dealer friend, although a police stakeout nabbed him leaving the house before he could use. He was jailed, but the arrest was eventually voided.

And his father has yet to see what he called “complete contrition.”

“I know in his mind he’s thinking, ‘I’m going to make it right with this person or that,’” Gene said. “But it’s more that people have come to him, because of his celebrity. He’s a likable kid and people want to see a guy who pulls himself up by the bootstraps.”

Just how far up remains to be seen.

“I’ve only been doing this for a couple of years,” Beerbohm said. “Give me another year and I’m going to be on top of the world.”

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