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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Sober Community Offers Exercise, Camaraderie For South Siders Recovering From Substance Use Disorder

Exercise can serve as a powerful metaphor for the recovery process. "Whenever I’m jogging, all I have to do is focus on the next step in front of me," one volunteer said.

Joggers pose for pictures at two recent hikes through Eggers Grove, organized through The Phoenix sober living community.
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HYDE PARK — Two weekly exercise groups offer South Siders a way to get outside and build healthy relationships as they navigate sober living.

Volunteers with The Phoenix sober living community organize a running and walking group on Fridays and a hiking group on Sundays. The only prerequisite is 48 hours of continuous sobriety beforehand.

Due to the pandemic, the exercise groups are limited to 15 people and require pre-registration through The Phoenix’s website. Events are free and open to people of all fitness levels.

The running and walking group goes through Hyde Park and Kenwood via the Lakefront Trail. Runs begin 6:30 p.m. Fridays at 57th Street and Stony Island Avenue, and they will continue year-round, barring blizzards or storms.

The hiking group goes through Eggers Grove and meets at the Eggers Grove comfort station, 11251 S. Avenue B in Hegewisch. Hikes begin 2 p.m. Sundays and will end when snow and ice make the trails impassable.

Masks and social distancing are required, and hand sanitizer is available. Each activity begins with a discussion of community standards and an icebreaker to get to know other attendees.

The Phoenix, founded in 2006, is a national nonprofit offering free exercise classes to anyone recovering from substance use disorder. The Chicago chapter was founded in February 2018 and offered CrossFit classes out of a West Town gym before the pandemic.

Jack Slimski, the Chicago chapter’s lead volunteer, said the South Side groups were formed as a way to continue offering programming when indoor, in-person events were restricted.

The exercise groups “give people something to look forward to throughout the day and week,” and it was important to find a way to continue them through the pandemic, he said.

Though Slimski used to think running was too difficult, it has come to serve as a powerful metaphor for his own recovery.

“Whenever I’m jogging, all I have to do is focus on the next step in front of me,” Slimski said. “Sometimes I get so caught up in my own head, but then I tell myself I don’t have to go this fast. I can jog as slow as I need to if I just focus on one step at a time.”

While the exercise groups are primarily for people recovering from substance use disorder, they’re also open to supporters, family members and friends.

The program “gives loved ones and family members an opportunity to see [participants’] growth in a positive way, and see these communities that they are building in their recovery,” said Charity Coleman, a volunteer with the exercise groups and Slimski’s partner.

The Chicago chapter is working to create hiking, running and cycling groups on the Far North and Northwest sides in the coming weeks. Virtual yoga, meditation and social hours are also available through The Phoenix’s website.

For updates on the Chicago chapter and future events, you can visit their Facebook page. To volunteer with the South Side exercise groups, email Slimski at jackslimski@yahoo.com or send a message to the Facebook group.

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