On Wednesday morning, September 27th, ROCovery Fitness founders, Yana Khasper and Sean Smith, along with several of their members set out on their bicycles to pedal 260 miles from Rochester to the NYS Recovery Conference in Albany. The group, all of whom are in recovery, made the trip in four days and spoke with several news outlets along the way to let people know that recovery is not only achievable, it’s sustainable and powerful. Two days later Yana and Sean were joined by Scott Strode (The Phoenix – Scott’s Story) and Tom Shanahan (Spiritual Adrenaline – Tom’s Story) to lead one of the conference workshops – The Fitness Approach to Recovery. Following is an overview of information presented in the session, as well as links to each presenter’s website where you can learn more about the fitness approach to recovery.

Since co-founding ROCovery Fitness, Yana Khasper and Sean Smith have turned it into New York State’s premier resource for recovery support through fitness and sober living, connecting peers, friends and family through wellness, acceptance and understanding. The organization exists because of a community need to provide sober experiences and connections to other individuals working on recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

Through activities such as hiking, camping, bicycling, kayaking, rock climbing, strength training, yoga, and much more, the ROCovery Fitness strives to empower its members’ development on their journeys of recovery.

The organization is made up of members who have lived experience with recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, a sense of passion and service to give back to the community, a drive to make a difference in combatting current community trends, and a commitment to change by replacing maladaptive patterns of living with the connectedness of like-minded individuals pursuing wellness, fitness, and the outdoors.

ROCovery Fitness offers a wide variety of activities at various levels of skill and at different times and locations in order to make an all-inclusive, active lifestyle accessible to anyone interested in sober living. Members become part of a social network built on enriching, physically engaging, and fun activities in an atmosphere where people will gather together to support and motivate each other through their journey.

Research shows that peer recovery support services help people become and stay engaged in the recovery process and reduce the likelihood of relapse (Resnick & Rosenheck, 2008). Individuals recovering from addiction need a SAFE, NURTURING and HEALTHY social setting where they are allowed to grow and further develop the skills they need to succeed and achieve long term recovery from addiction. ROCovery Fitness fills that need.

ROCovery was inspired by The Phoenix, another nonprofit organization focused on enriching the lives of individuals recovering from addiction through fitness. The Phoenix, which currently includes 5 facilities throughout the country and is planning to bring the program to a number of other cities, operates with a $2 million budget and has served over 20,000 members. Readers who attended this year’s NYS Recovery Conference may have had an opportunity to listen to The Phoenix’s founder, Scott Strode, deliver the closing keynote address. If you couldn’t make it to the conference (or were not able to stay for the closing), you’ll want to watch Scott’s incredibly inspiring Tedx Talk, Finding sobriety on a mountaintop. And don’t stop there, equally inspiring is the TedX Talk, Transcending addiction and redefining recovery, by The Phoenix’s Director of Research, Jacki Hillios.

Another of the Fitness Approach to Recovery workshop’s presenters was NYC-based Spiritual Adrenaline’s Tom Shanahan who shared his story of how nutrition, exercise and a regular twelve step practice helped him find recovery and overcome so many obstacles. According to Tom, “In the last five years, I have rarely been sick; I set out to eat right and exercise every day and on August 1, 2015 I won a physique contest for men over 35. I have made all my financial amends and no longer have the specter of bankruptcy hanging over my head. I was certified as a personal trainer in sports nutrition and weight management, all while maintaining a thriving law practice.”

Yana, Sean, Scott and Tom are living testaments to the power of fitness as an approach to recovery, but there’s also a great deal of research supporting it. For example:

  • An article published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health (2014) utilized the Quality of Life measure to show the correlation between group exercise and overall improvement in well-being among substance use disorder patients.
  • Wang, Wang, Wang, Li, and Zhou (2014) published a meta-analysis on the impacts of physical exercise on substance use disorders which found that “physical exercise can effectively increase abstinence rates, ease withdrawal, and depression.”
  • There is a substantial body of evidence that suggest participation in physical activity not only improves physical health, but enhances abstinence, mental health and quality of life outcomes (Correia, Benson, &Carey, 2005)
  • Research shows that the act of giving back or helping strengthens one’s own sobriety just as learning in a mentoring environment from those who have shared experiences strengthen others. (Pagano, Friend, Tonigan & Stout, 2004).
  • Substantial evidence suggests that shared experiences can increase coping skills and reduce stress, which can re-establish a greater sense of safety, stability, and belonging in the home (Franko et al., 2008)

Organizations like The Phoenix, ROCovery Fitness and Spiritual Adrenaline provide great value to the communities they serve by mobilizing a joint community collaborative effort to spread awareness, shatter stigma, provide education, and offer an alternative to unhealthy, maladaptive patterns of living.

Furthermore, by providing a low cost, effective addition to the recovery continuum, fitness-based recovery communities like these ease the burden to already overwhelmed treatment centers while reducing relapse rates, decreasing recidivism and increasing sustained long term sobriety among its members. Case in point: 73% of people who come to Phoenix Multisport stay clean and sober!
According to ROCovery Fitness co-founder Yana Khasper, “We aim to REINTEGRATE the recovery community and put a face to the devastating disease. To shatter the stigma. To bring hope.” Clearly they’re succeeding!

To learn more about these organizations and their programs, visit their websites: The Phoenix, ROCovery Fitness and Spiritual Adrenaline.