Telegram & Gazette
Date: 10/09/16

WORCESTER – Brian Keith, a 37-year-old city resident and banker who's recovering from crack cocaine and alcohol addictions, said he hadn't worked out in three months.

Prior to a relapse in July, Mr. Keith said, he had been working out four times a week. The stop to his fitness routine, he said, was detrimental to his recovery.

They say working out hits the same part of the brain that drugs and alcohol do, said Mr. Keith. It gives you that natural high, which is healthy for you, as opposed to the false high, the diluted high from substances.

He went back to fitness mode Friday. Mr. Keith and about 10 other exercisers completed an hour session with an 8-minute stanza of more than a dozen movements, including squats, jumps and the pushing of a weighted sled, at NV Fitness at 50 Lake Ave.

Mr. Keith at times lay on the floor and gasped for air during the short rest periods.

After the workout, a winded Mr. Keith told a reporter he felt awesome.

Mr. Keith, who recently resided at Spectrum Health Systems before his release on Wednesday and moved into the New England Recovery Center in Westboro, was the lone addict in the exercise group.

The offering was courtesy of a new program called Recovery Through Fitness.

NV Fitness owner Jen DiCandia offers the boot camp sessions for free to recovery addicts such as Mr. Keith.

The initiative came about after Donna Pellegrino, vice president of Spectrum Health Systems, invited Janelle Nicole Monteiro, owner of Body Ambition in Middleton, onto her radio program, Airing Addiction, to discuss the importance of fitness during recovery.

Ms. Monteiro spoke about losing her sister to addiction, and how difficult it is to watch her niece struggle currently with the disease.

In a separate segment, Ms. DiCandia discussed the death of her brother six years ago from an overdose.

After the first episode aired, Ms. Monteiro and Ms. DiCandia, who are friends, decided to begin offering free fitness classes at their facilities, no questions asked, to those at any stage in recovery from substance abuse.

They launched a support group on Facebook, also called Recovery Through Fitness. It's been garnering interest from people all over the country the past few weeks. A gym owner in Nevada also began offering free classes to addicts.

The social media page allows people a place to share stories – both successes and struggles with addiction.

After the death of her brother, Ms. DiCandia said she's always wanted to do something in the arena of recovery, and not just talk about it.

She said she had previously organized fitness events to raise money for the Herren Project, a recovery and education program launched by former Boston Celtics players and recovering addict Chris Herren. Ms. DiCandia had also arranged a couple of runs with 25 or 30 people to raise money.

This is more of a continuous effort, more of a movement versus just an event to create awareness, Ms. DiCandia said. I'm not going anywhere, and my doors are going to be open.

For non-addicts, an individual class at NV Fitness is $15, or there's an unlimited program for $119 a month allowing people to come as many times as they want. Most clients choose the latter option because they opt to come three or four times a week, she said.

Only a handful of addicts have come so far for the upstart program, Ms. DiCandia said.

Asked what she'd do if the response grew overwhelming, the owner said, That's a challenge because we only have so much space. There has to be availability in the class. But she suggested she might be willing to add classes if there's a need.

Ms. Pellegrino said Spectrum might be willing to sponsor Recovery Through Fitness classes if there's a need.

Mr. Keith appeared on Ms. Pellegrino's Airing Addiction program Sunday. The Spectrum vice president's slot on WTAG is 10 a.m. Sundays. It can also be heard on iHeart Radio and weekly podcasts.

Ms. Pellegrino called Mr. Keith's appearance Banker with drug addiction does an about face in 20 days.

Mr. Keith said he is not at all concerned about being a local face of addiction. He said he's met lawyers and doctors in recovery.

The disease doesn't discriminate, he said.

Mr. Keith said he's struggled with alcohol since his early teens, and considers it his gateway to hard drugs. He said he began using crack cocaine about 12 years ago, after a friend introduced him to it. Prior to that he had used powdered cocaine.

Ms. Pellegrino said the stigma of addiction being homelessness, bottles and paper bags needs to be countered.

Mr. Keith said: I was almost there. I was almost on the street. I almost destroyed my entire life in three months.

Other addicts who want to join Ms. DiCandia's classes should visit www.nvyourbody.com or download the NV Fitness app, choose a particular class and create an account. Once prompted for options to pay, choose Recovery Through Fitness, which is free, subject to availability.

The owner said it will be an honor system, as she won't be verifying the addict's health status.

Ms. Pellegrino said anyone who wants to enter treatment or has questions about Recovery Through Fitness may contact her at (508) 340-5422 or donna.pelligrino@spectrumhealthsystems.org.