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Freedom’s Run fights West Virginia health crisis – overcoming addiction to opiates and to obesity

By Staff | Sep 30, 2016

The two biggest health crises facing our state and maybe even the nation are opiate addiction and obesity with its associated health complications. After many years and efforts in trying to tackle these growing problems as a medical system sadly opiate abuse and addiction and obesity are still undefeated. So Freedom’s Run wants to share the stories of two amazing people who have found strength and joy in running to overcome the seemingly impossible.

On Friday, Sept. 30 at 5 p.m., at the Shepherdstown Opera House hear the stories of Travis Muehleisen and Phillip Brenneman moderated by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella. Travis is six years opiate free and down 100 pounds and running his 15th marathon as prep for this falls JFK 50 Mile Run, his first attempt at this distance. Phillip is half the man he used to be and has chosen the healthy path of eating real food and embracing movement to get there. The event is free and open to the public, not just to runners in Saturday’s events.

As an opiate user, Travis Muehleisen knew only one way to enter running: “all in”-and often to excess. This is critical to understand. If Travis does not run, and run hard, he literally feels pain. It takes him six miles to get the substitute-he’s run through pain and injury, but he knows he must run. Travis is also in an almost non existent world of workers who have come off disability-as there is almost no incentive to work when you’re getting a paycheck and insurance not to work. But Travis needs to work to keep his brain and body highly engaged. And a desk job? No way-Travis is a steel worker, and builds bridges.

Travis shared this in 2012-at the beginning of his running journey:

“In 1997, I had my first back surgery for spinal stenosis. In 2004, my second surgery. In 2007, I was disabled and couldn’t work. In 2008, I had my third and fourth back surgeries for two levels of fusions. From 1997 – 2008, I was severely depressed and obese (330 lbs.), developed high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease and became dependent on pain medications.

“After living this way for 13 years, I knew I had to change or I wasn’t going to be alive much longer. I started walking on a treadmill in the winter of 2010. Within a month, I was up to three miles. In the summer of 2011, I ran a lap around the Martinsburg High School track. A month later, I ran a mile. In October of 2011, I ran my first half-marathon. I recently completed my first full marathon. I’ve lost over 100 pounds; I’m eating right; I no longer take medications; I’m in the best shape of my life; and I’m back to working full-time. “

Travis is now six years opiate-free. He’s run 14 marathons in four years. He’ll do the JFK 50 miler this year.

He added, “Running has shown me that there is a productive life after addiction, if you want it bad enough. It’s up to you to take control of it. Running is my substitute for addiction-because it never goes away. Addiction recovery is a long journey, but you have to find a substitute that challenges you mentally and physically-and dive in.”

Phillip Brenneman is a 45 year old husband and father of a beautiful 5-year-old daughter. He works in the IT field in Garrett, Indiana. Phillip has lost over 200 pounds since February 2015. That is half his weight from around 400 pounds 15 months ago with a little more to go. His journey began the day after the Super Bowl 2015. In 15 months he has lost weight, but has gained so much more. He has learned to believe in himself again, and discover the power, drive and commitment inside of him that had been hiding for a long time.

Phillip had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes taking multiple medications and daily insulin injections. We are happy to say he no longer takes any of the medications. Phillip is now a well person. At a recent check, his blood pressure and labs are not just normal but optimal and not diabetic; no more insulin.

Phillip shares this common story in the path to obesity “I used and viewed food mostly two ways one as comfort when I was sad, depressed, lonely or just overwhelmed. The second way I viewed food was to celebrate or enjoy social time with people.”

But in the end he emphasizes the choice is yours.

“You can do this on your own, you don’t have to accept the fact that you will have to be on medications just to maintain a life that isn’t what you want it to be. There is a choice and it’s inside of yourself and all around you. With proper nutrition and exercise you can break free of the medications.”

During the event at The Opera House, Travis and Phillip will share their stories and answer questions from the audience.

Dr. Cucuzzella will share some special door prized from the race.

Travis and Phillip’s stories can be found at naturalrunningcenter.com/ under “Dr Marks Desk” tab.