Leslie Gold (far left), founder of Strides in Recovery, stands alongside runners, coaches and board members at a fundraising event last year that supported the organization’s sobriety efforts through fitness and exercise. A group of runners from the Los Angeles-based nonprofit are scheduled to run in the half-marathon portion of the Maui Oceanfront Marathon on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Leslie Gold

The run has paved the way for sobriety, camaraderie and hope for a group of runners traveling from California to compete in the 14th annual Maui Oceanfront Marathon on Sunday.

Using fitness and exercise to achieve long-term sobriety for those recovering from substance use disorders or addiction, Strides in Recovery, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization, has guided a team of people from the Grandview Foundation – a residential and sober living program with outpatient treatment options – to prepare for a half-marathon on the Isle Valley.

“We come into a program alone and lost, so when we start doing things like that, it brings camaraderie with each other and it’s a motivation for everyone to see each other progress and reach the goal. ‘objective we set ourselves’, said Jason Razo, a Grandview admissions counselor who is also hitting the three-and-a-half-year recovery mark. “It helps us physically, but more mentally.”

Razo’s last long run was a 15k (9.3 miles) and is looking forward to racing the 13.1 mile race in Lahaina this weekend.

“Every time I race I keep falling more and more in love with it, just trying to beat my own lap times,” said Razo, who will also be joined in Maui by Grandview executive director Shelly Wood and about 10 teammates sharing the trip. “It’s an individual thing, but we’re all a team, so that’s what I appreciate the most.”

Robert Reyes (left to right), Jason Razo, Ruben Tovmasyan and Kyle Harpt take a selfie while racing in their Strides in Recovery jerseys in October. They and other teammates will participate in the Maui Oceanfront Marathon Half Marathon on Sunday to support the race for sobriety. Photo courtesy of Shelly Wood

Coach and founder Leslie Gold started Strides in Recovery in 2018, and it has since grown to around 400 participants, 30 volunteers and 11 partnerships with drug and alcohol treatment clinics, like Grandview.

“When people suddenly find themselves on a team where they connect with each other, they realize that they matter, that they can ask others for help, that they can help other people, that they’re part of a community and that they can do more than they thought they could because they inspire each other – that’s huge,” said Gold, who will also race on Sunday. “I often heard comments like that too, like ‘I realized I didn’t have to go through life alone.’ “

After a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maui Oceanfront Marathon is back to host the 5, 10 and 15 kilometer races as well as the half and full marathon.

The marathon will begin at 5 a.m. Sunday in Wailea and will run along the oceanfront ending at Kamehameha Iki Park on Front Street.

The 15K will start at 6:35 a.m. from Papalaua State Wayside Beach Park, while the other distances will be an out-and-back course from Kamehameha Iki – the half marathon will start at 6:35 a.m., the 10K at 6:55 a.m. and 5K at 8:30 a.m.

Grandview customers and board members have been running with Strides in Recovery once a week for the past six months and participating in 5k runs each month, which has “kept them excited and engaged,” especially during the pandemic when most community events and activities have ceased, Wood said.

She hopes the whole team’s experience and positive environment will help those struggling with sobriety to “pass the wall” and towards long-term recovery.

“Being in recovery, it takes you a while to realize it’s worth it, so if it helps them get there, then why can’t I find a way to say ‘yes'” she added.

The group cherished the little moments along the way, like buying running shoes together, making t-shirts and cheering each other on at the finish line.

“These medals have been major motivators because the people who come (to Maui), even though they may not be patients, they’ve gone through a treatment program and a lot of them have spent some serious time in a psychiatric facility or a correctional facility, so this is a huge accomplishment for them,” said Wood.

Grandview sees hundreds of people seek treatment for substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders each year at its residential and sober living program as well as its various outpatient treatment facilities, she said.

The population is generally underserved, such as the homeless population and/or people with histories in the criminal justice system, she said.

Wood said that over the years the organization has added wellness and fitness options to the program, such as yoga, weightlifting meditation, kayaking, running and baseball, which have all of which have helped many clients develop friendships and coping skills.

Typically, about 50% of people who enter treatment relapse within the first year, Gold noted. That’s why being part of a goal-oriented community group that promotes physical, emotional and mental health can help support people on their journey to recovery, she said.

“People are starting to learn that exercise helps with anxiety, with depression, with stress, with clearing your head, and one of the reasons that’s so important is that stress, anxiety and depression are often reasons why people relapse.”, says gold. “I know that people who exercise regularly are better able to learn, remember, and form good habits.”

Gaining a sense of community and accomplishing something can have a positive impact on how someone feels, she added, noting how some customers have said, “I realized that I was stronger than I thought” Where “I learned to believe in myself again.

“At some point, it would kind of translate to the rest of life race, like, ‘Damn, if I can do this, what all the other things I can do in my life?'” says gold. “It feels good to know that I can take something I do, which is running, and use it to help other people. When I see someone cross the finish line and looking at that medal, you know, it’s huge. I have no words for that.”

* Dakota Grossman is at [email protected]

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