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Saving lives on 'rode2recovery'

23 August 2012

Saving lives on 'rode2recovery'

“I would say to students, ‘my name is Matt and I’m a recovering alcoholic and a drug addict and I’ve lost everything!’ I’d get four of them to bring their bags up to the front and then I’d tell them, ‘I’m 37 and I can fit everything I own into these four bags. Do you want to live your life like that?’” – Matt

As Matt cycled across the finish lineafter a remarkable 12-day, 1000km bike ride, he couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.

He crossed the line with eight residents of The Salvation Army’s Miracle Haven Recovery Services Centre at Morriset (NSW). Cheering them were more than 200 family members, many of whom had last seen their loved ones, who were either riders or support crew, on a path to self-destruction in active addiction.

What was even more inspiring, says Matt – rider, co-organizer, and graduate of the service – was the incredible feedback the team members had received after sharing their stories at 15 schools along the route.

The idea for the “rode2recovery” (R2R) ride began when Miracle Haven case worker Mark Gambrill asked a few clients, who were riding around the centre on old pushbikes, how they would feel about training for a 1000km ride.

Matt, a former television cameraman, threw himself into the massive task of organisation, which continued well after he had graduated from Miracle Haven. A group of residents started training on old bikes with him.

At the same time, they approached businesses, the police and their own contacts along with selling wristbands, visiting churches and giving talks to raise funds.

A past graduate who is passionate about warning young people about the dangers of addiction, donated $5000.Bikes and camping equipment were bought or donated, with all costs covered by the team.

A shared experience

A back-up crew, comprising 10 residents from the service, worked behind the scenes to set up and move camp, and cook and drive support vehicles.

They also shared their stories with more than 2000 school students along the journey, describing the horrible reality of addiction. Matt says he believes the impact of this aspect of the ride was so deep, because the men who were sharing were talking from their lived experience and were urging students not to take the path they had.

“The kids were completely taken aback, because these were real people with real problems, speaking honestly from their hearts,” Matt says. “They sat there in absolute stunned silence.

“We had teachers crying so hard they’d have to walk out. It was raw and gut-wrenching. I cried hearing these men’s stories.

“I think we scared the bejeebers out of students,” he adds with a smile.

“It hit home. The teachers all said that was exactly what the students needed to hear.”

Co-organiser Mark Gambrill says: “When we set out we did not know if we would ever be able to determine if what we were doing would work, but we began to get amazing feedback from both teachers and students.”

Stories came in of students vowing off drugs and alcohol and many deeply moving messages were posted on the team’s Facebook page. One young woman whose entire family was in the grip of addiction, spoke about her struggle to stay clean and the inspiration the team had been to her.

“The ride has worked on so many different levels and its success and impact on all involved has been so wonderful and has exceeded all our expectations,” says Mark.

Plans are already underway to make R2R an annual event, and the possibility of rolling out a similar program throughout The Salvation Army’s Australia Eastern Territory is being explored.

“From the impact we’ve had, I believe it could be a full-time program,” says Mark. “I actually think it needs to be. The number of 15 and 16-year-old kids that put their hands up when the guys asked them who was using alcohol and drugs was really scary!”

The Salvation Army acknowledges the Traditional Owners of country throughout Australia and recognises their continuing connection to land, waters and community. We pay our respects to them and their cultures; and to elders both past and present.

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