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Story written by Georgia Tzanidis

Women's Gold Medal Volleyball Team

Women's Gold Medal Volleyball Team

The Salvation Army Bell Shelter in Southern California recently celebrated this year’s Al-Impics with a barbeque lunch and awards ceremony to honor its participants. The Al-Impics competition is designed for men and women who are in a residential program for alcoholism or substance abuse.

The Al-Impics – or Alcoholic Olympics – was started in 1973 by Kurt Freeman, the former director of Warm Springs Rehabilitation Center in Castaic, California. Freeman used his experience treating chronic drug and alcohol users to develop his idea for an annual athletic competition especially for addicts.

He said, “I found that chronic alcohol and drug addicts didn’t know how to use their leisure time in constructive ways. They would engage in destructive activities. The key was to get people to transfer their addiction to something positive.”

Freeman also noted that tests on those in drug and / or alcohol recovery – before and after beginning an exercise program – showed that athletic activity led to decreased dependence, as well as improvements in physical health, social skills and cognitive abilities. He also said that athletic activity helps calm anxieties which he referred to as the reasons people drink or use drugs in the first place.

This year’s competition went well for Bell Shelter: residents captured the gold in three events – men’s basketball, women’s volleyball, and chess. The third-place bronze medal went to the men’s Volleyball team and pinochle enthusiasts – Dwayne and Ernest.

The women’s volleyball team sought some retribution this year after settling for the silver in the 2008. They were able to beat the same team that they lost to last year. Players said that it felt good to be a part of a family and to do something clean, sober, and as a team. Bell shelter resident, Lisa, was named the team’s Most Valuable Player.

“I was in shock,” Lisa confessed, when asked about the team’s success. She struggled with drug addiction and after a relapse returned to Bell Shelter in October 2009. Lisa believes God gave her the strength to return to the shelter and seek the help she needed. Currently, she lives in the independent living section of the shelter, and is doing well in beauty school.

Bronze medalist, David, was named the most improved player for the men’s volleyball team. “It felt great,” proclaimed David when asked about the win. “I was amazed to see so many addicts and alcoholics in one place on a journey together.” David started getting high once he began working in the entertainment industry. His habit began affecting his work so much that his boss paid for him to seek treatment at Bell Shelter. David has been with the program for 4 months.

Longtime guru, Oscar won first place in the chess competition. Oscar has been playing chess for the past 45 years and describes it as his main hobby. “I’ve played and won tournaments before,” stated Oscar. “I saw some old friends and it was a fun outing for me.” Homelessness brought Oscar to Bell Shelter and has resided there for the past five months.

Congratulations to all The Salvation Army Bell Shelter athletes! Enjoy some BBQ ribs and potato salad and savor your big win!

For more photos of the BBQ and awards ceremony, please view our slideshow on Flickr.
For more information about The Salvation Army Bell Shelter,
please click here.


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