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United Methodist gets ready for 100-plus-mile run for gambling awareness

United Methodist gets ready for 100-plus-mile run for gambling awareness

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

United Methodist gets ready for 100-plus-mile run for gambling awareness

Nov. 3, 2006  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0569}

An e-Review Feature
By John Michael De Marco**

Robert and Pam Melo. Photo courtesy of Robert Melo, Photo #06-460.

On Nov. 12 Robert Melo will begin to run a 101-mile stretch that pales in comparison to the spiritual distance he has already traveled toward progressive victory over gambling.
Melo, a member of Harvest United Methodist Church in Bradenton, plans to run about 15 miles a day, adding symbolism by selecting the location of a Ft. Myers Beach casino cruise ship as the starting point and the church as his destination.

He calls the journey “going from a place of pain and suffering to a place of love, acceptance and forgiveness.”

The 56-year-old native of Columbia has already run light years from his situation in the late 1990s and early part of this decade when his addiction led to bankruptcy and prison time. A human resources manager for a health care company, he traveled around the state on an extensive basis when he was overcome by the darkness of gambling.

“I had a lot of time on my hands, which wasn’t a good thing. I was full of myself, believing that I needed to make lots of money and show that I was a very successful person,” he said.  “I was driven by a breakdown of my own core values, my character, my honesty, my own personal weaknesses, and it manifested in gambling. It could have been manifested in drugs or alcohol. It just happened to be gambling.”

Melo eventually discovered the gambling casinos in Miami and found himself gradually drawn into the addictive lifestyle — particularly via the boat casinos and the Internet, which he said is one of the worst outlets for gambling addiction.

“With the kind of person I am and the profession I had the idea that I had an addiction was simply unacceptable. It just couldn’t be,” he recalled.

Melo’s view of himself changed dramatically when everything he held close disintegrated. He said his four months in jail “was probably the best thing that happened for me” and that he recovered from the ordeal with support from his future wife, Pam, and the Rev. Steve Price, Harvest’s co-pastor, whom he’d met through a local running club. “I feel blessed and fortunate for what happened because I don’t think my recovery would have happened otherwise.”

Suffering a very public arrest, Melo e-mailed friends, family and colleagues — including the members of the running club — to apologize for any embarrassment he might have caused them. He said Price was the only person who called and offered to meet in person at the jail to show his support, which cemented their friendship.

It was one of those God moments,” Price recalled. “I had just gotten to know Robert at that point. I remember thinking, ‘He has got to be in the darkest place right now,’ and something just kind of nudged me to reach out.”

Melo said Pam, whom he married last year after 12 years of dating, was “extremely supportive through the worst of it, even when the police came to our door to tell her I was in jail. She could have thrown me out of the house very easily at the time, but thankfully she didn’t. The experience reinforced our relationship and made us both realize who we were inside.”

As part of his recovery process Melo embraced the Gambler’s Anonymous support group, modeled after Alcoholics’ Anonymous and its Twelve Step program.

“It’s very rigid. It’s very good for people in the beginning, who are suffering and need some support to stop,” he said. “As time goes by, we all have different needs. I needed to know why this happened to me. I went to some individual therapy with a counselor who specialized in gambling addiction. Then, I became a compulsive gambling counselor. I’ve helped some other people.”

But Melo advised it is not enough to attend meetings, like Gambler’s Anonymous, and say, “This is wonderful, I think I’m recovering.” “It was important for me to try to do something very individual, very active,” he said. “I came up with the idea of the run, and he (Price) kind of massaged it as to where and how.”

Beginning Nov. 12 Melo will head north on Highway 41 (Tamiami Trail), traveling all the way to Sarasota, then going north on McIntosh to Bahia Vista to Honore, then to University Parkway. He hopes to arrive at Harvest United Methodist Church at about 4 p.m. Nov. 18 to coincide with an A.A. meeting that takes place at that time. Some associates from Gambler’s Anonymous and other friends will be present for the finish.

Price plans to run small portions of the route with him, along with other friends. Melo’s run will be part of a documentary that will discuss the Twelve Steps, along with his personal views of recovery. Members of the church are supplying the equipment and the production talent for the project. Melo said he hopes to distribute the documentary through the United Methodist connectional system and the Florida Council on Gambling.

Price hopes the video gets widespread exposure. “It is clearly such an issue these days,” he said. “He obviously, from his own experience, understands the dangers and what kind of devastating impact it can have on someone’s life. Maybe the video will open the doors for Robert to come and do some sharing.”

“It (gambling addiction) is immense. It is so big, it’s sad and scary,” Melo said. “They have done statistics from the National Council on Gambling, that of the 20 or 30 million persons who regularly gamble you can expect to have four to six percent who will become compulsive gamblers. It’s just the nature of the beast. I have a huge issue with the push to legalize gambling. They are just concerned with making money.”

Melo said the typical gambler is “convinced that sometime very soon you’re going to hit it big; no one will dissuade you from that fact. Then you hit a point of saying, ‘I’ll never do this again.’ But I refused to go to anyone for help. I wanted no one to find out. You go through the cycle of you win, you lose, you win … then you keep losing.”

The adrenaline of gambling, Melo said, has been replaced by the focus the couple has on developing their business. They recently purchased an accounting and bookkeeping franchise, and are recovering financially. Melo said there is an element of balance in recovery that includes support from one’s family, profession and spirituality. “It’s (the business) where most of my time goes. The more removed you are from the events, the better.”

Melo is particularly saddened that young people — from middle school-aged through college students — have become hooked on Internet gambling. “They assume it to be a safer pastime than drinking or drugs, but in fact the exposure is the same. You have young people who come to G.A. (Gambler’s Anonymous), because there’s no outlet for them.”

Invariably, he said, the addicts who suffer the most are the ones with very extreme lives. “I look at it (the run and accompanying documentary) as an opportunity to be sincere, honest and open about this problem. I hope it has an impact and that I can convey the message to someone else,” he said.

Although a regular runner and former marathoner, Melo conceded, “I will probably run pretty slow.”


This article relates to Church and Society.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.