Now she is a part of an unusual running team of six former drug addicts who will represent San Patrignano on Sunday in the New York City Marathon.
“We are broken vases that have been glued together again,” Floriddia said. “But if we can work and live in a healthy environment, we won’t break again.”
Tucked in the northern hills of Italy, San Patrignano is not a typical training ground for marathoners. It has 1,300 residents at its main facility, which doubles as a small farming community. The addicts submit to a four-year rehabilitation program in which they must cultivate their food, clean their rooms and undertake tasks like making cheese, raising pigs and cows, and producing wine.
And some have become runners. Since February, a top marathon coach, Gabriele Rosa, has been training the program’s team of runners to help improve their self-confidence. The New York City Marathon is a way for the runners to pursue a dream, but there are other benefits.
“We also hope that the visibility of the N.Y.C. Marathon could make our community known and available to other people in need all over the world,” said Letizia Moratti, a longtime supporter of San Patrignano and the president of its United States affiliate, Friends of San Patrignano.
San Patrignano, which was founded in 1979 and has two smaller branches in Italy, is not like many drug rehabilitation centers. It is free, for one. Unless the newcomers need to scale down their use of methadone, residents are not given substitution medicines. They can see a therapist but are not compelled to. Social workers and former drug addicts who have seniority in the program assist those who have just arrived. If necessary, the seniors “crowd around you and talk you off the cliff,” as an American resident put it.
The San Patrignano method mirrors the mental and physical discipline needed to run, forcing the participants to work methodically, Rosa said as his group of runners, who have 3 to 18 years of drug addiction behind them, went up a slope.
“I am confident that they will all finish the race in a good time, out of personal motivation or out of gratitude for this community,” Rosa said.
For many, San Patrignano is family. About a third of the 422 collaborators and volunteers in the community were once residents there. Antonio Boschini, the community’s therapeutic manager, graduated with a medical degree in the 1980s from the University of Verona while living in San Patrignano, where he still lives, with his wife and two children. He is also a member of the running team.
“Drug addicts are not ill people; they are not doomed to lead a life of minor league,” Boschini said. “We need to show it to the world when in New York.”
For Andrea Grossi, 27, running is a challenge requiring his concentration at every step.
“They all know it — I just don’t want to run in the first 20 minutes,” he said. “Then I break that mental barrier, and I love it.”
Grossi recounted his personal victory at the Rome Marathon in 2011. At Mile 23, he thought he could not take it anymore. Fatigue took over his mind before his legs. Yet he would not stop. Training for months and then finishing the race proved to him that he was no longer the boy who provoked 13 car and scooter accidents in a daze of drugs.
“We used to be derelicts of society, people in the corner,” he said, but no more.
For some athletes from San Patrignano, the New York City Marathon is their first important test.
Floriddia, now a nurse in the community, said it was a matter of pride for her to complete the race in less than five hours. She is also racing so that her father, an award-winning road runner now in his 60s, will be proud of her.
“When I was little and we followed him to the races, I hated it,” she said. “At the finishing line, he was drenched in sweat; at times he would even throw up. ‘Why would he do it to himself?’ I thought.”
Now, her raven-black hair stands out as the team’s runners march up a hill in bright yellow shirts. She has never left Europe. She is one of the two female runners flying to New York, and the only one who is still going through the rehabilitation program. She said she felt the need to pave the way for former addicts like her, and for others who needed to learn how to keep their self-destructive tendencies out of their lives.
“At times I worry that when I’ll be out of here, I could get discouraged, bored or be nervous again,” she said. “But now I know what I’ll do. I will run.”
- Marathon Offers Recovering Addicts a Different Path (nytimes.com)