Former heroin addict completes cycle home

Between the sixth anniversary of his sobriety on March 23 and the start of his studies at MUSC, 26-year-old Steve Pulley has been riding across the United States spreading the message of hope at more than two dozen substance-abuse treatment centers.

A former local heroin addict who landed in the hospital four different times because of overdoses will wrap up his symbolic 3,133-mile "Ride4Recovery" by dipping his bicycle in that Atlantic on Sullivan's Island on Sunday.

Steve Pulley, now 26, grew up in Mount Pleasant and from ages 13 to 20 was addicted to both drugs and alcohol.

"I did them all, but heroin was my drug of choice and I was an addict," says Pulley.

"Charleston is a big small city and everyone knew me from being on the street, panhandling, running around downtown and getting arrested. Everyone knows I had a problem. I don't mind saying that," he said.

His parents, Jeff and Valerie Pulley, estimated that they spent between $300,000 and $400,000 in treatment programs during those years.

"For a while, it was pretty hopeless," admits his father.

But Steve finally found a program that clicked for him, Louie's Recovery Halfway House in Statesboro, Ga., and Georgia Southern University's Center for Addiction Recovery, which is considered a "Collegiate Recovery Community."

Pulley says physical fitness played a "huge part in my recovery," in addition to mental and spiritual healing.

"A lot of people in recovery still smoke cigarettes for a while, but I quit smoking and started running. I was already into resistance training, but I shifted my focus to endurance training," says Pulley, whose 6-foot frame changed from carrying about 210 pounds to 175.

Last December, he earned a degree in exercise physiology, graduating cum laude, from Georgia Southern and will start the doctoral program in physical therapy at the Medical University of South Carolina later this month.

But before starting that, Pulley wanted to spread the message of hope, and the benefits of providing a sober environment on college campuses, across the nation.

On March 23, the sixth anniversary of his sobriety, Pulley started a bicycling journey in San Diego, Calif. Along the way, he raised money via his website,, for the Willingway Foundation, a Georgia nonprofit charity that will direct all proceeds from the ride Georgia's Southern's Center for Addiction Recovery.

He also has spoken at more than two dozen drug addiction treatment centers and hospitals, along with doing media interviews, on his journey east. He hoped to provide encouragement for individuals battling from the disease of addiction.

"It's a huge public health issue in America and people don't like to talk about it, but I'm talking about it. I'm transparent," says Pulley.

Sylvia Rivers, community outreach and education coordinator for MUSC's Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs, says the center is helping promote Pulley's arrival home, which includes an invitation for cyclists to join him at 9:30 a.m. Sunday at Alhambra Hall for the final ride to Sullivan's, largely because of his message.

"What Steve is doing is so tremendous," says Rivers, saying he is helping families of addicts by giving them hope and is building enthusiasm in recovery programs across the nation.

"Alcohol and drug dependence affects all levels of society, genders, and races, and exists in 40 percent of the population. Yet, the public is very much unaware of the risks involved in abusing alcohol and drugs, how the disease of addiction develops and misunderstands that addiction is not simply a lack of self-control but a disease of the brain that predominantly begins during the adolescent years."

Following the ride, participating cyclists are invited to attend a lunch celebration at nearby Gold Bug Island, located at the base of the Ben Sawyer Bridge, where MUSC's center will be collecting donations and holding a silent auction to benefit its fund.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.