For Rushford Clients, an ‘Eye-Opening’ Fitness Center

Rushford sign.
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In a small room crammed with eight pieces of exercise equipment, dozens of Rushford clients are logging actual miles of recovery.

The Rushford Fitness Center in Middletown, featuring equipment donated by an area Planet Fitness and painted with the brand’s bold yellow and purple, has been booked solid by clients eager to push themselves physically on the elliptical, treadmill, recumbent bikes or weight machines while they mark the days of sobriety.

“I was curious and wanted to burn off some anger,” says one female client who visited the gym recently.

Under such Planet Fitness signs such as “In the end, it’s all about you” and “Judgment-free zone,” she and other clients sweated and groaned.

“It was eye-opening to see how much strength I lost,” she says, adding that the exercise “helps me release negative emotions.”

That was the thought that prompted Jillene Bertolini, LMFT, director of residential services with Rushford, and Kate McNulty, director of development, when they announced intentions to partner with Planet Fitness to introduce equipment to the facility.

“It’s something our clients have been asking for as long as I’ve been here,” Bertolini says. “To be able to do it at this level is a blessing.”

Many clients, she says, like being physically active when they’re living a sober life. When they are working on their sobriety at Rushford, they long to be active again but all that had been available was walks outdoors.

“I go to the gym regularly and I have personal goals I want to attain,” a man using the gym recently says. “I think this is great. I started off light and set reasonable goals for myself.”

In addition to returning to a hobby they enjoy, the opportunity the exercise helps clients in their recovery process, according to Rushford Nurse Manager Justin Sleeper.

“There’s definitely a connection between physical and mental health, and it’s also a way of coping. It’s an alternative to the addiction, which has become the person’s only coping skill,” he says. “It’s a naturally good feeling and helps distract them from their cravings. Cravings only last about 10 minutes so it helps them get through them.”

The Rushford Fitness Center is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday until midnight. Clients can sign up for one-hour sessions, with a capacity of six people allowed at a time. If there is space available on the schedule, staff can also use the machines.

Once clients are discharged, Planet Fitness has agreed to waive annual and initial sign-up fees to help clients afford memberships at a location convenient to them. Rushford will also start them off with a three-month membership supported by community and staff donations.

“The feedback has been amazing. They feel that it’s a gift and it helps them learn to address their coping skills instead of reverting back to unhealthy behavior,” Bertolini says.

For information on adult addiction services at Rushford, click here.


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