Running for recovery

jojacobs@dailypress.com
Rickard, a recovered alcoholic, began her path to recovery at the Farley Center.

Pam Rickard marvels at the audience arrayed in front of her. She stands at the front of a packed room of patients and staffers of the Farley Center at Williamsburg Place. A poster detailing the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous looms behind her. The sun shines through the big windows of the room on a clear Tuesday afternoon.

Rickard has been in this place, this very room, before. Not as a motivational speaker but as someone in need of motivation. She's stayed sober for the last decade thanks to the Farley Center. Rickard shares her story with enthusiasm and a smile. Her cascading, brown hair bounces with the sweeping gestures that punctuate her sentences.

"I love this place because I found my sobriety here," Rickard said. "We are connected because of this place."

Rickard is running across the country as part of the Ice Breaker Run, a cross-country running event to raise awareness of mental health. Her journey brought her back to Farley Center, a virtual second home for the Roanoke native because it was here Rickard received a new lease on life. She has taken a detour from her trip to share her story with those who make the residential addiction clinic their place of healing.

While it's common for alumni of the Farley Center to return to share their recovery stories, few have the profile and energy of Rickard, Director of Business Development Eric Rhodes said in a phone interview. Her success in the running world despite the challenges of alcoholism represent a "vision of strong recovery," and showed patients the heights they can reach after recovery.

Rickard took her alcohol abuse in stride. As a high-functioning alcoholic, Rickard maintained the appearance of a normal life. A college graduate, Rickard worked as a YMCA administrator and has a family with three daughters. She ran marathons in her spare time. Then she ran into a wall. She received three DUI's in 18 months and was ordered to enter a rehabilitation program and serve a jail sentence.

She picked the Farley Center because its distance from Roanoke. Rickard enrolled in a 33-day program on April 17, 2006.

She called the Farley Center "a messy place, a broken place, but a beautiful place too." Rickard called it a place where real people make real progress.

Rickard recalled one speaker's impact on her. As she told the story, she pointed out the chair she sat in during the talk. The speaker asked the audience to define humility. A journalism major, Rickard scoffed at the definitions others shared. Then the speaker defined it as "follow directions."

Rickard called it an epiphany moment.

She left the Farley Center 31 days sober on May 18, 2006. She returned to Roanoke to a frustrated family and a sentence in the Roanoke City Jail.

Rickard struggled during her three month sentence. Early on, she was sent to solitary for 24 hours. But she said she followed directions and made it out.

Three years later, like completing a lap on a track, Rickard found Farley in her life again when she took a job as part-time alumni coordinator. She jokes the Farley Center took her phone away when she came as a patient, only to later pay for her phone bill when she returned as an employee.

She ramped up her running after Farley as well. According to a press release, she has run more than 40 marathons in the last 10 years. She ran the 2013 Boston Marathon and finished 20 minutes before explosions rocked the race, the release said. Rickard has also been featured in "Runners World" magazine and in New York Times writer Liz Robbins' book "A Race Like No Other," which chronicles the stories of runners in the 2007 New York City Marathon. The marathon is the world's largest, with 50,000 finishers in 2015, according to the event's website.

Now she's employed by the Herran Project and is running across the country for the Ice Breaker Run starting on May 15 and dashing across south California, into Arizona and New Mexico, into the Deep South and up along the coast into the D.C. area, according the Ice Breaker Run's website.

The Herran Project was founded by NBA player Chris Herren to provide support for those taking the steps towards recovery from addiction, the organization's website states.

Rickard runs with a relay team of five other runners, who struggled with mental illness, and five support crew. According to the Ice Breaker Run website, the team covers approximately 130 miles every day.

On Thursday, the run concludes in AlexandriaAfter thousands of miles of running and meetings and talks in schools, treatment centers, and in Rickard's case, an old friend in the Farley Center.

"There is so much power in recovery," Rickard said. "My running has taken me many places."

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