Christopher “Critter” Scott -Smith was a lifelong athlete who lost his battle with addiction on Oct. 2, 2014 at the age of 21. Shortly after his overdose death, a small group of his family and friends founded the nonprofit organization, Critter’s Crusade, in White River Junction.
“Critter’s Crusade began with the mission to raise addiction awareness and reduce the stigma associated with addiction, but we also knew we wanted to help people in recovery,” says Critter’s Mom, Chrissy Scott-Smith, the organization’s co-founder.
As non-professionals in the field, and as a small non-profit with limited funding, the group wasn’t certain where to focus their efforts until Alannah Ojibway, a UVAC trainer, approached them with the idea of starting a fitness program to aid individuals in their recovery journeys.
“We instantly knew this was the program for us,” Chrissy says. Not only did Critter’s Crusade believe it would help people in a meaningful way, she says, but “Critter would be proud to have his name associated with the program and would have most-likely benefited from it himself if it had been available to him.”
A good physical fitness program helps the body recover from the physical and mental havoc addiction leaves behind. One reason for this? The body releases natural feel-good chemicals during exercise: “Endorphins interact with the same receptors in your brain that reduce the perception of pain and trigger similar feelings to those of opioids,” Chrissy says. “So, along with improving cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, it also improves self-esteem and helps your brain re-learn how to ‘feel good’ without using substances.”
From the beginning of their partnership, the Upper Valley Aquatic Center has worked with Critter’s Crusade to develop a program that is practicable for participants and is also cost-effective: “UVAC provides personalized training to ensure participants are comfortable, safe, and successful while offering us steeply discounted rates to help as many people as possible,” Chrissy says.
To date, 18 people have taken part in the program through three sessions, and Critter’s Crusade recently revised its format to accept applicants on a rolling basis rather than through set sessions.
According to Chrissy, every participant has completed the fitness program with the same sentiment: “They feel stronger and their self-confidence has been lifted to a place they never thought was possible again.”
Jenn Bartleman couldn’t agree more. Her addiction counselor had suggested she join a gym, but Jenn didn’t know where to begin until she reached out to Critter’s Crusade.
“Getting a chance to work out at UVAC with a trainer was just what I needed,” she says. Jenn was able to set fitness goals and track her progress while having someone offer encouragement. She tried Pilates and Essential Conditioning, used the pool and sauna, enrolled in the fee-based class, Shed and Shred, and ran her first 5K in May 2018. “Everyone I’ve encountered at UVAC is friendly, knowledgeable, and supportive,” she says. “I am in the best shape, both physically and mentally, of my life. UVAC and the friends I’ve made there have helped me stay strong in my recovery.”
Interested in enrolling in Critter’s Crusade’s Conquering Addiction Fitness Program?
Email [email protected]
Critter’s Crusade’s Upcoming Events:
The Annual Conquering Addiction 5K
Saturday, September 29 at 10:00 am
The sole fundraiser for The Conquering Addiction Fitness Fund, this timed fun run/jog/walk/wheelchair/adaptive bike event is fun and suitable for all ages and abilities.
To register, visit: www.critterscrusade.org
Businesses interested in sponsoring can email [email protected] or call 802-295-2222.
Critter’s Crusade participates in several other community activities throughout the year. Coming up, they’ll attend an Overdose Awareness Candlelight Vigil on August 31st.
Critter’s Crusade’s smaller fundraisers go towards hosting free activities for people in recovery (such as Sober Paint Nights and Recovery Hikes) in a fun, stress-free/substance-free atmosphere.
By Elizabeth Kelsey, addiction prevention coordinator for the Hartford Community Coalition