At 43, Ray Rotonno has been in and out of addiction treatment facilities for most of his life.
He started experimenting with drugs when he was 14. He was addicted to crack cocaine. He has used heroin, or anything else he could get his hands on. His longer stretches of sobriety lasted for a bit over three years.
But each time, he “stopped working the program,” as he put it, and found himself returning to drugs.
After another failed relationship, and after his teenage daughter stopped speaking to him, Rotunno went to a detox facility once again. He’s been sober for more than 60 days now, and he’s ready to run away from his problems — literally.
At 6:30 in the morning, twice a week, he’s participating in a running program for those in recovery.
On those mornings, the small town of Yardley, Pennsylvania, doesn’t seem quite awake and Main Street is abandoned. Rotunno drives in from Levittown to meet his crew in a park. They use a tow path as their running track.
Coach Sarah Kucharski said through conversations with her husband, who is in recovery, she realized that exercise was a missing component in programs for people trying to stay clean.
“There is no physical component, exercise is encouraged, but there’s no plan, and no free or low-cost option for people who want to get in shape,” she said.
The program lasts for 10 weeks, and runners meet twice a week. Kucharski currently has four groups in Bucks County. “It’s designed for non-runners, anyone who wants to get in shape, and wants to use this as a tool for meditation, or anxiety relief,” she said.
Kucharski visits halfway houses, recovery programs and coffeehouses to recruit new runners and to spread the word. Most of her recruits stay with the program.
The program has helped Rotunno stay on track. “It feels good to do something good for your body, for your mind, for your health overall,” he said.
And there’s an element of accountability, too. A few mornings when he didn’t show up because he was too tired from working the night before, his fellow runners reached out, and said they missed him.
He also enjoys being out in nature, near the water. “One thing I like to focus on is the reflection of the sky in the canal, while I’m running, that helps me stay focused, and in tune,” he said.
On this morning, the runners completed a 10-minute run as they worked toward their goal of being ready for a 5K run in October.
Kucharski wrapped up practice with the group’s mantra.
“Practice endurance, expect progress.” she said.