Runners In Recovery Conquer The NYC Marathon

By Victoria Kim 11/07/18

“It’s a miracle story. This group, last year, some were in prison, now they are in the program running the New York City Marathon.”

New York City marathon runners

More than 50,000 people ran in this year’s New York City Marathon on Sunday (Nov. 4). Among them was team Odyssey House, a small but dedicated group of people in recovery.

The team of 45 runners included 19 current clients, alumni and supporters, ranging in age from 25 to 72 years old.

“It’s a miracle story. This group, last year, some were in prison, now they are in the program running the New York City Marathon,” said Odyssey House CEO John Tavolacci, who has run 22 marathons. “I always tell people, society gave up on this group, I tell them everyone has given up on you. This is your opportunity to prove them wrong. This is part of their recovery.”

Since 2001, the program has seen 500 clients compete in 19 marathons.

John Kane of Long Island, 47, is in recovery from painkillers and heroin. He has been sober for 1 year and 7 months. “Through hard work with counselors and joining the running team, I’ve overcome my addiction. Running has become my passion. I help train new clients as a volunteer and hopefully they have the same experience I did,” he said.

Kane says that running the 26.2-mile trek requires skills that are “transferable” to any part of life.

“The hard work, the perseverance, the dedication it takes to run a marathon can cross over into your everyday life—as far as setting a goal, working toward that goal and achieving that goal,” he said to the New York Times.

Running, and exercise in general, are popular among people in recovery. An exercise routine can provide structure in early recovery—not to mention the health benefits of improving one’s fitness and a natural feeling of euphoria that come with it.

“I like the way I feel after a run. I may not want to start running. At the beginning I’m like, ‘I really don’t want to go for this run,’ to be honest. But then I know how I’m going to feel afterward. It replaces the adrenaline that I was looking for when I was using drugs,” says 36-year-old Ryan Stevens, an Odyssey House alumni. Stevens ran her fourth marathon this year.

This was the 21st marathon for Andre Matthews of the Bronx, 58, who coaches the Odyssey House runners. “I find that when you stay connected in recovery, it’s one addict helping another. It’s a parallel process as you grow and mature in recovery and continue to be a part of people in their recovery, it also benefits you,” said Matthews, who has 20 years of sobriety.

Matthews’ sister and assistant coach, Sylvia Hyman, has run for the last 10 years to support her brother. “It’s absolutely incredible,” she said. “I was on the sideline watching Andre for so many years… These guys are athletes. It’s like a blessing, they’re like family, it’s inspiring… If they can do it, anyone can do it.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr