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In Philadelphia, a run club helps those recovering from addiction find purpose


Many people trying to recover from addiction see exercise as an important support. When Kellen Matthews decided to get sober, he formed a running club in Philadelphia for people like him. Reporter Buffy Gorrilla went along on a recent run.

BUFFY GORRILLA: Kellen Matthews is smiling, dressed in shorts and a tank with the Recovery Run Club logo printed across the chest.

KELLEN MATTHEWS: Going to to try to stay together the best that we can. Obviously, I'm trying to keep this super inclusive. You guys ready to rock and roll?

GORRILLA: With a spring in his step, Matthews leads 20 runners of all ages and fitness levels across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

MATTHEWS: This is a much bigger crowd than usual.

GORRILLA: Today, the Recovery Run Club group is running from Philadelphia to New Jersey and back, about 3 miles round trip. The group is friendly. People are managing to chat between breaths on the slow climb. I catch up to Jason Brown.

I'm sorry to interrupt.

Brown is a chef from outside the city. He's enjoying the view of the Delaware River.

JASON BROWN: Nine years ago, I was in Atlantic City. I got arrested with drugs, woke up in jail, came back to Pennsylvania and got a DUI. So I got arrested in two different states in less than 24 hours.

GORRILLA: Brown says that experience was his rock bottom. It was time to get help, and he added running to his recovery.

BROWN: I would plug in my headphones and start rocking out to some music. And it just kind of set me free mentally. I could barely run a lap around the track in high school.

GORRILLA: He put in the miles, starting with a 5K, then a half marathon and even a marathon. His whole outlook changed.

BROWN: The sense of accomplishment, it's one of the most amazing feelings on earth, and I think running became - I don't want to say a distraction, but it became my therapy, where I could run. That runner's high is real. And it's 10 times a better high than any drug or drink. And I fell in love with it. And it was an extreme blessing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Way to work. Let's go. That's what I'm talking about.

GORRILLA: The group arrives in New Jersey. Runners mill about waiting for the rest of the club to finish the first leg.


GORRILLA: Creating a space for runners of all abilities is super important to Matthews.

MATTHEWS: I didn't have a great experience with AA and NA, and I wanted an outlet to be able to connect with the recovery community. But I figured the best way to, you know, meet people where they are is to have them come out and move their body and hopefully encourage them to exercise.

GORRILLA: But getting into running was hard. Matthews says his lifestyle of smoking and bad diet did not a runner make, but he tried it anyway, starting slowly. Now Matthews runs almost every day.

MATTHEWS: I believe that everyone has an addiction of some sort. I like to try to focus my time and energy into something that is beneficial, and it makes me feel good.

GORRILLA: He is seven years heroin free. The running is clearly working. Matthews turns to head back to the group, and printed on the back of his running tank are the words We Do Recover.

For NPR News, this is Buffy Gorrilla in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Buffy Gorrilla