April 3, 2024

Exercise fosters physical strength and social connections for individuals in recovery

Kinesiology students launch physical activity group to support pathways to recovery
A woman waterskiing
Karli at the Mountain Wave Classic Surf Competition. Ryan Sauvé

Almost four years into recovery, Karli Coombes, a Kinesiology student, found physical activity was crucial for her well-being. She was curious if her knowledge and experience could help build community and support others like her at the University of Calgary.

She approached a recovery group she was attending called Donuts and Discussion in the UCalgary Recover Community, or UCRC, to see if any of the members had an appetite for something more physical.

“Models of recovery and pathways to recovery can involve a lot of talk therapy and narrative sharing, but I know from my studies and personal experience that physical activity is critical for our mental health. After one discussion I asked the group if they would be interested in getting together to try a new activity each month, and about eight people were willing to join,” says Coombes, now in her second year of a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology degree.

The group tried activities like climbing, squash and weightlifting; soon, monthly meetings turned into weekly meetings.

Two people stand together at the bottom of a ski hill in ski gear

Karli and her partner complete the Dead Cold Run this February.

With the support of the UCRC and Dr. Victoria Burns, associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work, Coombes formed the group Physical Activity for Community Empowerment, or P.A.C.E. The group is open to anyone in recovery, for those exploring recovery, or those interested in attending sober events. 

“Lived experience around addiction is not really talked about because of the stigma of disclosure, and it can be isolating. Everyone needs community and wellness. Physical activity helped me build community and support my own goals, and it can help others too,” says Coombes. 

To help with recovery, Coombes began training for triathlons, swimming and biking, eventually joining a master’s swim club as well as doing river surfing.

“Everyone is unique in their experiences, but when you move your body, it helps you to sleep better, and it gets you into a better headspace,” says Coombes. “I’m now on the board of my community swim club, and we are all about fun and fitness for life. Students can benefit from P.A.C.E. and build lifelong habits that build strength and resiliency. We welcome everyone, and it’s fun and affordable to participate, as students already pay for facilities on campus.”

How to join the club

If you are looking to participate in events, the P.A.C.E. club is open to anyone on campus looking for fun and fitness in a community that supports health and wellness. The club meets on Fridays from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m. in the UCalgary Recovery Community at #5, 3500 24th Ave. N.W. (next to the Subway at Yamnuska Hall). Please wear comfortable clothing to participate in activities. For more information, contact karli.coombes1@ucalgary.ca or recoverycommunity@ucalgary.ca

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