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Making strides toward sobriety, recovery

Group of runners from LA-based nonprofit Strides in Recovery set to continue healing journey at Maui Oceanfront Marathon

Leslie Gold (far right), 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 is set to run in the half marathon portion of the Maui Oceanfront Marathon on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Leslie Gold

Running opened a pathway to sobriety, companionship and hope for a group of runners who are traveling from California to participate 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 drug addictions, Los Angeles-based nonprofit Strides in Recovery has guided a team of individuals from Grandview Foundation– a residential and sober living program with outpatient treatment options — to prepare for a half marathon on the Valley Isle.

“We come into a program alone and lost, so when we start to do things like that, it brings companionship with one another and it’s motivation for everyone to see each other stride and meet the goal that we’re setting,” said Jason Razo, a Grandview admissions counselor who is also coming onto the three-and-a-half-year mark in recovery. “It helps us physically, but more mentally.”

Razo’s last long race was a 15K (9.3 miles) and looks forward to racing the 13.1-mile race in Lahaina this weekend.

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

Robert Reyes (from left), Jason Razo, Ruben Tovmasyan and Kyle Harpt take a selfie at a race in their Strides in Recovery shirts in October. They, along with more teammates, will be participating in the half marathon at the Maui Oceanfront Marathon on Sunday in support of running for sobriety. Photo courtesy of Shelly Wood

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

“When people suddenly find themselves on a team where they are connecting with each other, they realize that they matter, that they can reach out to others for help, that they can help other people, that they are part of a community, and that they can do more than they thought because they are inspiring each other — that’s huge,” said Gold, who will also be racing on Sunday. “I would hear comments like that a lot 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 start at 5 a.m. on Sunday in Wailea and run oceanside to finish at Kamehameha Iki Park on Front Street.

The 15K will begin 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 to start at 6:35 a.m., 10K at 6:55 a.m. and 5K at 8:30 a.m.

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

She hopes that the whole team experience and positive environment will help those struggling with sobriety to “get past the wall” and toward long-term healing.

“Being in recovery, it takes a while for you to realize it’s worth it, so if this helps them get there, then why wouldn’t I figure out a way to say ‘yes,’ “ she added.

The group has 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 that are coming (to Maui), even though they may not be patients, they went through a treatment program and many of them did some serious time in a mental facility or correctional facility, so this is a huge accomplishment for them,” Wood said.

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

The demographic is typically the underserved, such as the homeless population and/or people with a history in the criminal justice system, she said.

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

In general, roughly 50 percent of people who enter treatment relapse within the first year, Gold noted. This is why being a part of a goal-oriented community group that promotes physical, emotional and mental health can help to support folks on their recovery journey, she said.

“People start to learn that exercise helps with anxiety, it helps with depression, it’s an outlet for stress, it clears their head, and one of the reasons why that’s so important is because stress, anxiety and depression are oftentimes reasons why people will relapse,” Gold said. “I know that people who exercise regularly are better able to learn and remember and form good habits.”

Gaining a sense of community and accomplishing something can make a positive impact on how someone feels about themselves, she added, noting how some clients have said, “I realized I’m stronger than I thought” or “I’ve learned to believe in myself again.”

“At some point, it would kind of translate from running and into the rest of the lives, like ‘Gee if I can do this, what are all the other things I can do in my life?’ “ Gold said. “It feels good to know that I can take something that I do, which is running, and use it to help other people. When I see someone cross the finish line and looking down at that medal, you know, it’s huge. I don’t have words for that.”

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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