Staten Island Advance
By Nick Regina
Odyssey House was running for a cause near and dear to many Islanders at Sunday’s New York City Marathon
“Turning addicts into athletes,” boasts the organization’s slogan, written across the backs of its shirts on race day.
“Run for your life, run for yourself,” others have inscribed across the chest.
Odyssey House, a drug addiction recovery program based out of Manhattan and the Bronx, has had over 500 clients compete in 19 marathons since its inception in 2000.
Sunday was no exception, as organization CEO John Tavolacci and coach Andre Matthews were up bright and early to get their 40 runners situated at the starting village.
“It’s a miracle story,” said Tavolacci, a native Long Islander. “This group, last year, some were in prison, now they are in the program running the New York City Marathon.
“I always tell people, society gave up on this group, I tell them everyone has given up on you,” he added. “This is your opportunity to prove them wrong. This is part of their recovery.”
Sunday’s runners were an amalgamation of numerous races and backgrounds, as well as varying ages — spanning anywhere from 25 to 72 years old.
For Matthews, 58, it is his 21st marathon after two decades of sobriety.
“I find that when you stay connected in recovery, it’s one addict helping another,” explained Matthews, a Bronx native. “It’s a parallel process as you grow and mature in recovery and continue to be a part of people in their recovery, it also benefits you.”
Sylvia Hyman, Matthews’ sister, has run the Marathon in support of her brother each of the last 10 years.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” said Hyman. “I was on the sideline watching Andre for so many years, I said if they can do it, I can do it.
“These guys are athletes,” she added. “It’s like a blessing, they’re like family, it’s inspiring…if they can do it, anyone can do it.”
John Kane, 47, has been clean for one year and seven months, and he credits much of his progress to running.
“I got involved with the running team as a client at Odyssey House, I was addicted to opioid painkillers and heroin for a number of years,” explained Kane. “Through hard work with counselors and joining the running team, I’ve overcome my addiction.
“Running has become my passion,” he added. “I help train new clients as a volunteer and hopefully they have the same experience I did.”