In the grips of a bitter wintry depression and feeling the tug of old demons in the form of drugs and alcohol Yana Khashper and her boyfriend Sean Smith, both of Rochester, New York, announced on Facebook they were going for a hike in a local park.
Khashper and Smith, then 30 and 38; respectively, had been sober for less than a year and the bleak, leaden skies and icy cold temperatures of 2015 were creating a winter of despair for the two. If they didn’t do something soon both of them were afraid they would relapse into a world they did not want to revisit. They had to get out of the house and engage in physical activity that could break the doldrums of winter.
“In that moment, in desperation, we opted for something different,” Khashper says. “We posted on our pages that we were going to go for a hike and anybody could join us if they wanted to.” That announcement drew about 10 people and of those, eight were also in recovery. Ten people hiked through about a foot of snow and cold temperatures that day. It was something that was not only refreshing, but desperately needed, Khashper says.
“The hike was magical,” Khashper says. “We weren’t thinking about depression or using drugs and alcohol. We just had fun.”
The group agreed to meet the next week and the hikes became a regular event. In addition to hikes, the group also engaged in other activities, such as climbing and running.
That group of recovering addicts exercising was not only the saving grace that winter, it was also the spark of innovation for Khashper who realized that other addicts could benefit from organized fitness meet-ups and support. Part of the sobriety process is to get out and engage in physical activity, she says.
Khashper conducted some research and soon found what she was looking for — a Colorado-based, peer-led sobriety project called The Phoenix. Khashper reached out to the founder of that organization who helped her develop a program and business plan, and ROCovery Fitness was soon born.
ROCovery Fitness is based on the same model as The Phoenix, which has grown beyond its Colorado roots and risen up in multiple states. Adventure, fun and camaraderie all while remaining sober are hallmarks of the program.
ROCovery Fitness and its offerings are open to anyone who is 48 hours sober, and it’s the only facility of its kind in the state of New York, Khashper says.
At first, all fitness activities led by ROCovery Fitness were held outside. They would hike and run, or play organized sports. But in May 2017 the fledgling organization was gifted an empty firehouse to use as a headquarters. The woman who gave over the property, “an angel” as Khashper describes her, lost her son to a fentanyl overdose and wanted to do something to help people battle their addiction demons.
“Now we have a sober clubhouse and wellness center,” Khashper says. “It’s a nurturing and supporting community who are committed to a sober lifestyle.”
The new ROCovery Fitness facility includes a clubhouse area, a small library, fitness center area, a place for group exercise and rooms for meditation and support group meetings. The facility draws dozens of regular visitors every day and averages about 200 unique visitors each month. Khashper says they hosted parties at Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day that drew hundreds of people who wanted to celebrate without the temptation of drugs or alcohol.
With nearly a full year of having a dedicated facility under her belt, Khashper says she sees big things on the horizon for ROCovery Fitness and its sober-living, fitness-oriented lifestyle. Khashper wants to see more people come to ROCovery Fitness to find some of the help in recovery they need. She is also looking at potentially taking the program to neighboring counties. Additionally, Khashper hopes the positive stories that come from recovery will shatter the stigma of addiction.
“We want to show the community what recovery looks like,” Khashper says.
In the meantime there are also additional outdoor challenges that ROCovery Fitness will initiate. Hiking through the Adirondacks is a high priority. Khashper says it’s a goal to become a “46er,” someone who has hiked all 46 peaks of the mountain range. Now that’s a healthy high.
This article was originally published in Community Health for WPV.