Addict-Turned-Athlete Helps Fight Drug Addiction in Colorado Town

By May Wilkerson 06/30/15

Rob Archuleta has been helping addicts recover by going extreme with exercise.

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Rob Archuleta
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In the small town of Pueblo, Colorado, people in recovery are hitting the pavement and the gym in their fight to get and stay sober, Vice reports.

Addict2Athlete is a unique treatment program run by Rob Archuleta, who himself got sober with the aid of exercise. He is now using his own experience to help fight a drug epidemic in his hometown.

"You're in a fight for your life with addiction and you want to use anything you can to kick it," Archuleta tells Vice. "As addicts, we did anything we could to get high. So we need to do anything we can to stay sober.”

Archuleta battled meth addiction in the ‘90s and began selling drugs to support his habit. After getting sober 10 years ago, he turned to extreme exercise to help him transform his emotional and physical health. He became a serious mountain biker and runner, and has since competed in four Ironman triathlons.

Hoping to help others find a similar path out of addiction, in 2009, he founded Addict2Athlete, which treats addiction using a combination of 12-step recovery, classes focused on addressing criminogenic behaviors and coping skills, and an exercise regime.

Since exercise can spike dopamine levels, much like drugs, the program aims to help addicts transform this dependence into healthy habits. “As addicts, we want that instant gratification,” he says. “With exercise, we're teaching people to use that dopamine in a constructive way; to work toward a goal in the gym and outside it, to see that we can use that primitive urge as energy to create a healthy life."

Like many towns on the poverty line, Pueblo is struggling with a growing opioid epidemic. Across the country, fatal heroin overdoses rose by 39% between 2012 and 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Colorado, there has been a 27% increase among 18- to 24-year-olds using heroin since 2008, reports the Colorado Department of Human Services. The Pueblo Police reportedly seized 348.2 grams of heroin in 2013, more than 10 times the amount seized in 2012. And they believe heroin use is continuing to rise.

Archuleta is doing his part to help. He estimates more than 800 people have participated in Addict2Athlete, which now receives an annual grant of $116,000 through the city probation department.

But he also recognizes that maintaining sobriety is not easy, and many people don’t stay sober after starting the program. "We're seeing a high rate of death from opiates and alcohol like we've never seen before," he said in one of his classes. "And these aren't old people. They're 17 to 30 or 40. We need to learn from these deaths and move forward in a positive way."

One way he’s helping people move forward is called the “Run for Recovery," which will start at Addict2Athlete’s counterpart group in Utah and end in Pueblo. Participants will run varying distances, from three to 50 miles. “This could be a great part of your sobriety,” he told his class. "Stay sober and be part of that."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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