New Zealand


“Building confidence with a group who believe in me’

Francis went from only being able to run for one minute, to completing the 42-kilometre event in the Christchurch Marathon. And he has faced challenges he thought would always overcome him. Something he credits to the support of the Speed Freaks and the encouragement of the friendships and connections he has made from being part of the group.

Francis had battled with addiction for a long time and never found anything that ‘clicked’ for him to sustain recovery – until he found the Speed Freaks. “I wasn’t so keen to begin with, but after going a few times I knew it was the thing for me,” he says. “Everything has its place in a recovery journey and treatment is necessary, but this has filled a gap that exists for so many – it’s a natural forming relationship thing that people need.”

Having felt ‘lost’ much of his youth and early adulthood, finding the Speed Freaks was a chance for Francis to step into a new way of approaching how he looked at his life. “Before I had real trouble managing my thoughts and would sink back into negativity and not seeing a way out,” he says. “Now, I have something to focus on that I know is good for me mentally and physically. I recognise that sometimes things are tough, but I can get through them and it will pass. The support from the Speed Freaks is there on the good days and the bad days.”

“It’s not so much always about the running, it’s about building my confidence with a group who believe in me and having a bond with others,” he adds.

He says that the physicality of running gives him a natural sense of well-being which has far surpassed anything that he thought was a good feeling from drugs and alcohol. “It has freed me,” he says. “And the coaches have been a big part of that. They had more confidence in me than I did in myself, but they helped me to understand what I was capable of.”

He is now one of the Speed Freaks biggest advocates, proud to wear the ‘Blue T-Shirt’ and active in his support of newcomers to the group because he knows just how impactful it can be. “Recovery-wise, it has meant everything,” he says. “Recovery is as much psychological as it is physical; in the Speed Freaks I have learned to face those challenges and overcome them through having goals to work to, things I can celebrate and things to look forward to.”

Francis is now gearing up for his first Ultra marathon at the Crater rim in October 2023, something he now feels prepared to do thanks to the care of those around him. “Addiction ruins social connection and belief in yourself,” he says. “The Speed Freaks have given me that back, and they are firmly on my team.”

“I never thought I could be part of a community,” he adds. I used to feel like there was an invisible wall of people not trusting me because of my past; this has broken down that wall. “Belonging to something where there was no judgement and being among people who genuinely care has made a huge difference. To be a part of this has changed my life.”

“Speed Freaks – this is longer term, community and connection”

Erica describes the past few years of her life as being ‘stuck’ in a cycle of relapse and trying to recover, but never really finding a way to maintain wellness. “I was a young person overseas in Australia trying to make my way and I got caught up,” she says. “Being without family and friends made it that much more dangerous. I struggled to get help away from New Zealand so came home to give it a really good go.”

After a detox programme in Christchurch, Erica moved to supported accommodation where she was introduced to the Speed Freaks by a fellow resident and now friend, Francis. “I could see from how passionate he was about it, it was definitely something I needed to try,” she says.

“On my first run I was nervous because my muscles had atrophied in treatment, but I did so much better than I thought I would,” she adds. “And that was down to the coaches and the other Speed Freaks. I felt supported and included straight away – there was no pressure, no questions, no judgement – just acceptance and support.”

Erica thought she’d just head along to one Speed Freaks event a week, but she quickly realised how beneficial it was and began attending multiple sessions. “It was slow progress, but it was progress -something I hadn’t had before,” she says. “It was focus, it was forward thinking, it was successes, and it was really, truly being part of something.”

“There is contrast to treatment and Speed Freaks – this is longer term community and connection,” she adds. “After treatment you can be left wondering where to go next and how to re-integrate – what is safe? Who can I talk to? This picks you up when you need it most as you try to live in the world again.”

Erica set her sights on longer runs and competed in her first seven-kilometre event with the full Speed Freaks crew cheering her on. “They were all standing at the finish line and it was amazing to have these new-found friends celebrating with me,” she says. “I had never had this much love or support in my recovery journey previously and I thought – this is just beautiful.”

What made the real difference for Erica in breaking the relapse cycle and maintaining recovery was being in a place where she felt safe to believe in herself. “There is massive stigma attached to attached to addiction, and not just from others, in our own minds as we battle it,” she says. “We think we aren’t going to be able to make friends, have the community accept us and lead fulfilling lives.  Being part of this group made me realise I can. The volunteer coaches are so giving – there is no catch, no transaction, just human beings helping other human beings.”

Erica is now enjoying a full life of work, social connection and giving back to her community as part of the Peer Support group in the Speed Freaks, where she passes on her learnings to others. “I am proud to share my story and encourage others to participate,” she says. “Being a Speed Freak is the opposite of the loneliness and darkness that is addiction, it is life, it is friendship and belonging.”

“I have connections that hold me in place in now,” she adds. “This helps every aspect of my life and I don’t know how I would have done it without the Speed Freaks. I have become curious about who I can be. I have possibility. I am Erica again and I will forever be grateful for that.”