By Published: March 1, 2016

Rob Shearon on his scooter

The CU Collegiate Recovery Center helped Rob Shearon set his life straight. To pay it forward, he traveled 6,000 miles to Alaska on a motor scooter.

After 69 days, 6,000 miles and a top speed of 32 miles per hour, Rob Shearon (Comm’14) made it to Alaska. His July 2015 finish in Anchorage brought him elation and relief. He’d traveled there on his Honda Ruckus scooter from home in Vail, Colo., and the trip had not been easy.

Isolated mountain backroads left Shearon alone with his thoughts, and he battled depression. The cold, wet weather didn’t help. Sometimes it rained so hard, he wore rubber dishwashing gloves and taped grocery bags to his feet to keep dry.

“There were several parts on the trip where I struggled,” Shearon says. “I wanted to drink more than anything.” 

Shearon in UtahKeeping dry with rubber gloves Shearon on his journeyShearon with his scooter in Alaska Shearon and his scooter

Rob Shearon drove his motor scooter more than 6,000 miles from Vail, Colo., to Anchorage, Alaska. In sharing his story of sobriety, he raised nearly $25,000 for the campus-based CU Collegiate Recovery Center. 

But a drink was out of the question.  

Shearon had been sober for 20 months and meant to stay that way. The solo scooter trip was his attempt to raise money and awareness for other CU-Boulder students recovering from substance use disorders, and specifically for the CU Collegiate Recovery Center (CUCRC), a two-year-old haven located in CU’s University Memorial Center that gave Shearon the push toward sobriety he needed. He raised money through an online crowdfunding platform run by CU-Boulder.

Along his way north, Shearon stopped at high schools and recovery meetings to tell his story: Less than a year earlier, alcohol had nearly ruined his life. During six years of college, drinking led to seven stints in jail, detox or hospitals. After quitting cold turkey his senior year, the CUCRC became his new campus community, one he needed to do the hard work of staying sober.

The CUCRC was co-established in August 2013 by Donald Misch, CU’s senior assistant vice chancellor for health and wellness, and Danny Conroy (Hum’91), co-founder of Boulder’s AIM House, a young adult live-in transitional program. Misch’s vision, modeled after collegiate recovery programs at Texas Tech, Rutgers, Augsberg College and others, was to bring together students in recovery to serve as role models for other struggling students. He secured space in the UMC and around $150,000 from CU and outside donors to start the program. 

Today, the non-clinical recovery center is a home and resource for students seeking sobriety, balance or peace in their lives as they recover from substance use or other addictive disorders or mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, PTSD and eating disorders, as well as Internet or technology addictions. The CUCRC community also welcomes students who are life-long abstainers from alcohol or drugs.  

“Recovery is a much broader word than addiction,” says Conroy, who has worked in young adult recovery and behavioral health for 20 years. “It’s about being your natural self.”

The CUCRC does not offer therapy sessions, medical treatment or interventions. Its focus is on fostering techniques for personal growth, accountability and coping skills, such as reducing shame and self-judgment and building emotional awareness.  

“For someone in recovery, maintenance of their emotional state is the number-one thing,” says the center’s assistant director, Samantha Randall. “We’re in the stress-
reduction business.”

I want to tell them, ‘You can get sober at CU.’

In September 2013, Shearon was refused a ski industry internship after the potential employer saw him buzzed on alcohol. That was his motivation to quit. Days later, withdrawal symptoms sent him to his supervisor at the UMC, where he had a security job. She walked him downstairs, past the bowling alley on the bottom floor and into the CUCRC. Conroy and a student affiliate of the center welcomed him in.  

“I got an overwhelming sense of relief that another CU student was there,” says Shearon, 26.

For the rest of the year, he spent about 10 hours a week at the center, a space filled with couches and tables that feels like a living room, cozy and welcoming. 

The CUCRC is a community within a community and a source of camaraderie for students who need it.

“Having connections means you stay,” Conroy says.  

About 300 students have made use of the CUCRC so far. They’ll often swing by between classes, drop their backpacks and take in a simple, refreshing moment of calm. There are regular bowling nights, game nights, dinners, meditation sessions and social hours, in addition to sober tailgate parties for Buffs football games to further bond them. The student community also has a private messaging platform for arranging social events and providing encouragement. 

CUCRC personnel offer group discussions for students to share experiences in their recovery. The space also can be reserved for independent AA or other recovery meetings. When necessary, students can get referrals for more intensive treatments elsewhere.  

“The CUCRC is different because it is entirely voluntary,” says Misch. “A lot of these students in recovery are remarkable students. The very stuff they have struggled with has made them resilient.” 

Last fall, the university created the Community for Students in Recovery, a substance-free housing option in Williams Village for students who have abstained from drugs and alcohol for more than six months. The initiative was led by Conroy and Randall, who were inspired by the success of the CUCRC. 

Jack DiSanto (IntlAf’16), a close friend of Shearon’s, came to the center on its opening day, Aug. 24, 2013. He’d spent nearly two years drinking heavily, blacking out or getting sick every weekend. 

“Alcohol was my phone booth,” says DiSanto, 23 and from Chicago. “Once I drank, I could look at myself in the mirror and like what I saw.” 

After a particularly bad night, he was struggling to cope with anxiety. Distraught, he contacted a campus group that met weekly to discuss sobriety. They referred him to the CUCRC. 

“I remember walking over there scared to death,” he says. 

But upon arrival, three students practicing yoga immediately called to him to join.

He hasn’t had a drink since that day. 

DiSanto will finish his degree this spring and is excited his parents will see him graduate sober.

“I always thought, ‘Who gets sober in college?’” he says. “The CUCRC puts a crack in that image that every college student has to drink.” 

When newcomers wander into the center, usually a couple every week, CUCRC regulars like DiSanto are the first to welcome them. 

“I know there are kids who are exactly like me who are going to walk in,” he says. “I want to tell them ‘You can get sober at CU.’” 

Conroy hopes a robust CUCRC alumni network will emerge so graduates can maintain their supportive relationships and serve as mentors to current CUCRC students. Five students are expected to graduate this spring.

Shearon is doing his part. After his scooter trip and crowdfunding campaign, in which he raised nearly $25,000 from 222 donors to create a CUCRC scholarship fund, he moved to New York City for work and adventure. Recovery is a long road and he struggles still, but he knows what — and who — he needs to stay the course. 

“I need to take action and help others,” says Shearon, who speaks to his CUCRC friends several times a week. “If I can do that, then everything else will fall into place.”

Photos courtesy Rob Shearon