By Kevin Grogan,
Gear for Multisport
South Lake County is quite lucky to have such a plethora of athletes of all ages. The neat part about that, is they all have a story about where they came from and why they are as passionate about their respective sport. Joe Beninghof is no exception. He is a definitely a giver; doing way more than his share to make Clermont and the surrounding areas a better place to live. Saying that Beninghof is extremely positive would be an understatement. Only living in South Lake for three years, Beninghof has become one of the most well-respected athletes amongst his peers in this area.
Tablet: Tell us about your athletic background and also what brought you to South Lake County?
Beninghof: Like a lot of guys, I played sports in high school, then made sporadic commitments as an adult, to “get back in shape.” But it wasn’t until about 10 years ago, while living in Boulder, that one of those commitments stuck. Since then, I’ve participated in scores of endurance events, including the inaugural Boulder Ironman in 2014. Last year, some minor respiratory issues forced me to relocate to sea level, and we chose South Lake County in large part because, like Boulder, it has a vibrant age-group athlete community.
Beninghof: The Phoenix offers a free, sober, active community to individuals who have suffered from a substance use disorder and to those who choose a sober life. While I got sober in November of 1980, I only learned about The Phoenix through a friend 10 years ago. At his suggestion, I tagged along on one of their bike rides and have been a passionate supporter, and active member, ever since. These were all guys and gals I could relate to. They knew where I’d been, having been there themselves, and they made me feel at home, right out of the gate.
Tablet: Since 2006, The Phoenix free sober active community has inspired more than 26,000 people across America to believe they have the strength to rise from the ashes of addiction through the support of those who are walking that very same path. Talk a bit about how this program has changed your life?
Beninghof: I got sober in college, drinking coffee in church basements with (mostly) men who were decades older than me. Don’t get me wrong. Those men literally saved my life. And, to this day, I frequent those rooms. That said, at the time, I didn’t have much in common with them beyond our shared problem. The Phoenix makes being sober fun! We support one another at races, push each other in workouts, and inspire one another to try exciting new things like rock climbing and CrossFit. We make trips together to places like Moab to mountain bike or Ouray to ice climb. Being part of this community is a blast!
Tablet: The Phoenix believes in fostering human connections in mental, physical and spiritual fitness is a powerful way to rebuild wounded bodies and spirits, and restore hope. Can you share a successful story (either about you or a friend)?
Beninghof: A few years back, a dear friend overdosed on heroin, one of the toughest substances on the planet to kick, and stopped breathing in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The lack of oxygen resulted in permanent, short-term memory loss. Yet, incredibly, today he is drug-free, has a job, a beautiful family, and a fulfilling and productive life. He is also one of the toughest endurance athletes I know and is an inspiration to thousands. And he attributes nearly all of it to The Phoenix.
Tablet: What is your vision for your local program here in Clermont?
Beninghof: Our first event will be a free weekly bike ride. But, one day, I hope there’ll be a group run, a partnership with a local CrossFit box, and some yoga and boxing classes at local gyms. Ideally, I’d love to eventually see The Phoenix acquire a brick and mortar facility here in Central Florida, as they have in Denver, Boston, Orange County and several other large cities. But raising the funds for that will obviously take time.
Tablet: Yoga, mountain biking, running, & CrossFit to name just a few of the other activities. Why did you choose cycling?
Beninghof: I have done just about every activity The Phoenix offers, but cycling is the one I feel most competent to lead. All our event leaders are not only sober, themselves, they are also trained coaches with CPR certification.
Tablet: The Phoenix programs are always free. The only membership fee is 48 hours of sobriety. Why is this so important?
Beninghof: Many in recovery, especially those recently out of treatment, simply can’t afford a gym membership, sports equipment or instruction. Yet these are often the people who most need a healthy and vibrant support community. So, while we occasionally charge treatment facilities and sober living homes a modest fee to provide customized, on-site programming, we are committed to the idea that no individual should ever be unable to participate due to a lack of funds. Hence, all our programs are funded by grants and donations. Those interested in supporting our efforts are encouraged to go to our website – ThePhoenix.org.
Tablet: If there was an individual who was on the fence about becoming a part, what would you tell them?
Beninghof: Come join us for a ride. What have you got to lose? And there’s so much to be gained. Whether you’re newly sober, or already have years of sobriety under your belt, The Phoenix can become a new and wonderful source of fun, fitness and community in your life.
Tablet: Anything else you would like to add & how do our South Lake neighbors find out more?
Beninghof: Our first local event will be a free, weekly bike ride that will launch on Sunday, November 25. (See below for details.) And I can always be reached at either 303-487-4539 or Joe.Beninghof@gmail.com
- Day of the Week: Sundays, starting November 25, 2018
- Start Time: 3:30 pm, sharp. Please arrive early.
- Location: Waterfront Park, 330 3rd Ave., Clermont (Gazebo next to Splash Park)
- Routes: Mostly the West Orange Trail, with detours to local hill rides.
- Pace: Social, D to C level ride (10 – 18mph) Gaps allowed, but no drops.
- Duration: 1 to 2 hours / 10-30 miles, depending on who shows up.
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