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Dana Fiero: Gearing Up Against Substance Abuse.

June 5, 2013

GearingUpSmall01Text and image by Urszula Pruchniewska.

Dana Fiero knows a thing or two about music. She has a bachelor’s degree in vocal music from Westminster Choir College and she teaches vocals, piano and oboe. She is an accomplished musician, playing folk rock with da(Y)ma and Dana and The Evergreens.

But when she’s not folk-rocking out, Fiero is a team leader at Gearing Up, a non-profit, urban cycling program for women in transition from substance abuse or incarceration.

“These women come from trying backgrounds,” says Fiero. “Fitness is important to anybody’s well-being. This gives them another tool for their recovery.”

Since 2011, Fiero has been leading Gearing Up rides out of CHANCES, an outpatient substance abuse treatment center for women in Center City.

“It was something I was interested in,” says Fiero. “I have alcohol and drug issues in the family and I was already an urban cyclist, so it made sense.”

Gearing Up aims to teach women recovering from substance abuse the basics of urban cycling, including bicycle maintenance. They practice riding around the city. Once a participant has done 100 miles with the program, she is rewarded with her own bicycle.

Neya Crawford, 24, started riding with Gearing Up in April 2012 and quickly made it to 100 miles and her own bike.

“I love riding and I couldn’t afford a bike, so I really appreciate it,” she says.

But Gearing Up is about more than just getting a free bike.

“My goal is mainly to have fun, make friends and encourage people,” says Crawford. “That’s my never-ending goal. The bike is a bonus.”

Usually the rides are led outside, to take advantage of fresh air and sunshine. During the winter, the women do indoor spinning, using stands to make their bicycles stationary.

The cycling room at CHANCES is covered in motivational posters and feelings charts. The participants set up bicycles in a circle. Fiero starts by asking each woman to let go of something negative that she’s feeling, whether it be anger at her partner or drug temptations. Then the cycling begins.

Fiero leads the class at a fast pace, varying the tempo and incorporating arm exercises and gear changes. The women chat casually, until they’re too huffy and puffy to say a word. At the end of the session, the women are asked about something positive they can share.

“My positive thing is that I’ve lost seven pounds,” says Donna Price proudly.

The 48-year-old Price gained a cycling certificate while in the prison system and has been riding with Fiero since November 2012. Gearing Up has made her feel better physically and emotionally and helped her stay on the healthy way of life. Becoming physically healthier is a common goal for the women in the program.

“In prison, the women are fed the same amount of calories as men,” says Fiero. “So they come out with weight gain and a loss of self-esteem.”

The program helps them shed the extra weight and also allows them to motivate others in similar situations. There are also psychological benefits that arise from the positive social interactions at Gearing Up.

Fiero says that one of the best things about her job is the relationship she builds with her “ladies,” and leaving an impact on people in a similar way to playing music.

“Music has always been a way for me to inspire others,” Fiero says. “There’s nothing I love more than when someone comes up to me after a show and tells me that something I wrote really hit home for them. Gearing Up has the same effect.”

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