Naperville ride brings biking's benefits to opioid recovery patients

Updated 6/1/2018 9:26 PM

Four people in recovery from opioid use got a free bicycle, helmet and safety gear last summer through a program that benefits from a fundraiser set to take place Sunday in Naperville.

Organizers of the second Hero In Me bike ride say participants in last year's Pathway2Home program began treatment with little separation from their drug-using days and plenty of physical, mental and emotional challenges.


"A lot of these people couldn't get out of bed in the morning on the days leading up to Day 1 of our program. One even had overdosed just days prior," said Ira David Levy, president of the nonprofit Pedal4Life, which runs the Pathway2Home program for people in opioid recovery. "That's the group we were dealing with."

To support the patients, who receive help at Banyan Treatment Center, Pedal4Life enlists cyclists to raise money for the cause.

The group offers rides of 18, 32 and 48 miles beginning at 8:15 a.m. Sunday from Performance Bicycle, 459 S. Route 59, for $75 to participants who sign up on ride day. The event isn't a race, but a chance for supporters to experience the benefits Pedal4Life brings to people in recovery, such as endorphins from exercise and enjoyment of the outdoors.

Levy said Pedal4Life will use money to be raised Sunday to buy bikes from Performance Bicycle and give them to patients seeking treatment at Banyan to overcome opioid addiction.

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Last year's Pathway2Home involved 12 Banyan patients who committed to weekly 10.5-mile bike rides on the Illinois Prairie Path, said David Tews, executive director of Banyan's treatment center at 50 S. Main St., Suite 290, in downtown Naperville.

"To get anyone new in recovery to make any kind of commitment -- weekly for as long as six weeks -- is an incredible challenge," he said.

Those who attended each session were given a bicycle to keep at the end, along with a helmet and gear for safety. Some began the program but dropped out, meaning a bike -- and a way to get around -- never became theirs.

"The fact that four people earned bicycles is amazing," Tews said.

But before the bikes become the patients' own, Tews and Levy said, participants learned healthy behavior, planning, communication, listening, focus, empathy and how to look out for and work alongside of others.


"It's not just the biking," Levy said. "It's really these other life-changing skills that they can use wherever they go."

On a practical level, Tews said, it's tough to engage in bad habits some recovering opioid users have, such as smoking cigarettes, while on a bike, and the activity requires focus to remain safe. Those elements help it engage participants' minds and take their thoughts off drugs, he said.

Even on the first morning the group gathered to go cycling, Levy said, the activity energized the patients.

"They were like different people when they started getting up on bikes. All of a sudden, all this energy came out of their bodies, and they were riding around and they were happy and they were smiling," Levy said. "We went on a 10-mile bike ride and they were asking for more at the end of the day."

Last year, 84 people participated in the Hero In Me ride. Levy said he hopes this year's total can rise to 110 participants as Pedal4Life organization aims to raise $30,000.

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