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Recovery, and a Lift: UVAC Program Helps Addicts Improve Lives

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/26/2018 11:24:53 PM
Modified: 8/28/2018 6:52:21 PM

White River Junction — At first, Jenn Bartleman was intimidated. She hadn’t been in a gym since college, and the environment of sweat and heavy equipment seemed a little overwhelming from the outside.

But after a few fitness classes at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center, Bartleman settled in. She hasn’t been the same since.

“It is like another addiction,” she said.

This time, though, it’s a positive one.

Bartleman, 52, is a recovering alcoholic who last year took advantage of the Conquering Addiction Fitness Fund, a program offered by Critter’s Crusade, a nonprofit organization in White River Junction dedicated to supporting addiction awareness, recovery and rehabilitation in the Upper Valley. The Bethel resident, who has lived in the region for 20 years, said the program changed the course of her life.

“I think it got me out of my shell,” she said by phone on Saturday. “I feel so good after I exercise. … When I was drinking, I was fat and bloated and hated myself. Now, I’m in good shape. I like to try new things.

“I was a drinker for 30-plus years. People see pictures of me, and they barely recognize me. I think I’m in better shape now than I was in college.”

Critter’s Crusade was created in early 2015 by Chrissy Scott-Smith after the overdose death of her 21-year-old son, Christopher “Critter” Scott-Smith. More than three years after its founding, the organization has started to take shape, hosting annual events and fundraisers to support addiction awareness.

The fitness fund, which is a partnership with UVAC in White River Junction, Scott-Smith said, has become a big part of what the organization does. Recovering addicts interested in the program can submit an application to Critter’s Crusade which, if accepted, funds eight weeks of one-on-one personal training with one of UVAC’s trainers. Applicants are then offered 60-day memberships for $60 upon completion of the two-month sessions.

To date, 18 recovering addicts have gone through the program, which this year has been reorganized into eight weeks of personal training from three months of group sessions. Nine people, Scott-Smith said, have stuck with their training since the program began in 2016.

“(Exercise) really helps replace all the endorphins and the feel-good chemicals your body creates itself, which drug addiction can wipe out,” Scott-Smith said. “Then you’re going through recovery and you feel these horrible pains, you get down on yourself. Physically, it helps boost your energy and your feel-good vibes. Mentally, I think it really helps to boost your own self-esteem.”

Taking on a very personal endeavor like physical training, Scott-Smith said, can be a catalyst for those looking to reclaim control of their lives.

“When you see yourself reaching these physical fitness goals, it’s a really empowering thing,” she added. “Many people who go through recovery, they gain some weight, they get tired. … (The trainers are) like a family. They’re all really invested in your success and trying to create a better, healthier you that you already know you have.”

John Grainger, the Hanover High baseball coach who works full-time as a fitness and personal training director at UVAC, helped organize the program in 2016. The benefits of fitness and exercise, he said, are the same for those in recovery as for anyone else.

“There are obvious health benefits: Preventing cardiac disease, improving blood pressure, cholesterol, and just generally feeling better, physically and emotionally,” Grainger said. “(Exercise) helps people feel better in almost every other facet of life.

“(Training) all depends on the person,” Grainger added. “(Recovering addicts) are the same as everyone else. They just have a different history.”

Susan Van Abs is a personal trainer at UVAC and the current trainer for those taking advantage of the fitness fund. She said one of the biggest benefits of the program is committing to a scheduled routine.

“Getting into shape is a challenge for all of us. … It’s very gratifying work. It’s exciting, actually,” Van Abs said.

For Bartleman, sticking to a routine is crucial to her recovery.

“For me personally, I need a lot of structure,” she said. “It was very motivating to know that you couldn’t miss a class without a really good excuse. I worked my schedule around those classes.

“My motto that I stole from the internet is, ‘I didn’t get sober just to sit on the couch,’ ” Bartleman added. “Deep down, I knew I could do the physical part of it, even if you’re in a gym with people half your age. They make it look so easy. But I never doubted I would finish the class. I’m actually surprised at how well I actually did.”

Critter’s Crusade offers various events aimed at spreading awareness and overcoming addiction. On Friday, a number of groups in the Hartford area will hold an overdose awareness candlelight vigil in Hartford.

The nonprofit Critter’s Crusade hosts an annual Conquering Addiction 5K road race — this year’s is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Sept. 29 at the Dothan Brook School in Wilder — to help finance its fitness fund.

“It’s nice to have a program that we’ve been building and changing over the last couple of years,” Scott-Smith said. “I think we’ve gotten it to a point where it really fits for the trainers at UVAC and it really fits with what our purpose is. … I’m really happy about the progress that we’ve made.”

Bartleman has been sober since May 18, 2015. She applied to the fitness fund in November and has stuck to it after completing the program. She now goes to the gym at least three times a week and said she feels like the best version of herself.

“I don’t want to say getting sober is the easy part — it’s not,” she said. “But I think if somebody is looking for a way to help them in their recovery, or to maybe jump-start it or strengthen it a little bit, taking advantage of this program is the way to do it. Not everybody wants to go to the gym; I get that. But for me, it was a game-changer. … UVAC is my home away from home.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at or 603-727-3306.


This story has been updated to reflect that several groups sponsor the candlelight vigil.

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