May 19, 2020

Bringing the Healing Power of Exercise to Addiction Recovery Communities

Shimon just after crossing the finish line of his first 5K.

Why Shimon Runs

To Shimon, “going for a run” once meant chasing that next high. It meant drinking and using as much as possible for days, weeks or even months, all to maintain that thrill. Today, it still means getting a thrill and going after an intense high, but in a healthier way.  His decision to join a Strides in Recovery team changed his life, and it inspired him to help change the lives of others too.

In 2019, Shimon began treatment for his addiction at the Chabad Treatment Center in Los Angeles.  When offered the opportunity to train for a 5K, Shimon jumped at the chance.  He, as well as many of the men in the same treatment program, also signed up.  Each Sunday morning, the Strides in Recovery coach would guide them through a warmup, give a short talk about one of the physical, emotional or mental health benefits of exercise in early recovery, and lead them on a run/walk through the neighborhood.

Some walked, some ran, some did a mix of both.  Everyone was encouraged to go at their own pace. At first, Shimon was mostly walking, but he pushed himself to run as much of the distance as he could. As he spent more time running and less time walking, he soon discovered that runner’s high is real. “The natural high of running is the closest thing to using, a lot of the same feelings.  I feel like it hits the same receptors in my brain.”  He could chase that next thrill any time he wanted, and this time he could do it in a healthy way that helped him rebuild his body, mind and soul. “Running is taking care of myself,” he explained.

Running soon became more than something he did for himself. “Once I started running, it changed my mindset. I started asking myself ‘where can I go from here?’” Soon after proudly crossing the finish line of his first 5K, he discovered the answer for himself. After completing residential treatment, he became a Chabad Treatment Center volunteer.  He now organizes and leads several group hikes each week, bringing his brothers in sobriety to beautiful locations throughout Southern California. By showing them that they can get out and get moving to lift their spirits, he is “elevating the natural act of using our feet into something amazing. It is all about getting out and moving yourself through life.”

Leslie Gold is the founder and executive director of Strides in Recovery, a Southern California non-profit which brings the healing power of exercise to addiction recovery communities. Since 2013, she has been working with residential treatment programs, sober living homes, and IOPs to coach hundreds of people in early recovery across the finish line of events ranging from 5Ks to the Los Angeles Marathon.  To learn more, visit StridesInRecovery.org

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