The Phoenix — a non-profit with five brick and mortar functional fitness facilities across the country — started offering virtual classes when the pandemic hit and has been reaching close to 1,000 new people each month, said Scott Strode, the executive director of the Phoenix.
- “It was actually kind of a gift. We realized we could now get to recovering (addicts) in rural communities, which historically we haven’t been able to reach,” said Strode, adding that the Phoenix has provided free fitness — including CrossFit classes — to 10,000 people recovering from substance abuse disorder since he founded the charity organization in 2006.
The pandemic also provided Strode and his team the opportunity to begin an on-demand service, so people all over the world can find various fitness classes any time they want.
- “The only price to admission is 48 hours of sobriety,” said Strode, who started the non-profit because he “saw a huge gap in services” for those recovering from substance abuse disorder.
- “So much is focused on formal treatment. Very little existed about helping people find who they are in their sober life,” said Strode, adding that he found CrossFit on his own recovery journey.
One big thing: Because September is National Recovery Month, The Phoenix has just launched a campaign called Sweatember.
- “Its 23 days of activities for the 23 million Americans who are in recovery. So we have activities for 23 days that we’re deploying,” including CrossFit workouts, Yoga and boxing, to name a few.
- Another goal of Sweatember is “to raise awareness of all of our programs,” Strode said, referring to their CrossFIt classes, Olympic weightlifting classes, Yoga classes, as well as the various other sporting events they offer.
John’s story: John Schwartz-Moore knows firsthand how fitness can help a recovering substance abuse user. The 42-year-old has been sober for five years and “stumbled upon” The Phoenix in Boston, MA two years ago.
- “I came in and attended a CrossFit class and it was like a lightbulb being screwed in. It was like, ‘This is what has been missing: a group of likeminded people who have been through what I have been through,’” said Schwartz-Moore, now a volunteer at The Phoenix.
- “Just that support you get from a CrossFit community is amazing, but I think there’s even this extra layer at The Phoenix. We’re all very different people — there’s a huge variety of folks, because substance abuse can affect anyone — but there’s this element of knowing what these people have gone through. So when we’re cheering for each other during a workout, it’s not just about the workout. It’s more like we’re cheering for each other as people. We’re cheering for each other to have success in their lives,” he said.
- He added: “We’re a group of people in recovery, but our interactions with each aren’t about substance abuse. We don’t sit there rehashing what we went through. We just accept each other where they’re at and are very forward thinking,” he said.
Though he’s back in the gym now, Schwartz-Moore took advantage of the virtual classes during the COVID-19 lockdown.
- “It was pretty cool. Usually I go to a class and see the Boston folks, but the virtual classes are nationwide, or even worldwide, so it was a chance to meet people from all over, and in some cases I was able to put a face to a name,” he said.
One key takeaway: Scwartz-Moore credits the Phoenix with helping him lose the shame and embarrassment he used to feel when he told people he was a recovering addict.
- “I used to feel this stigma around my recovery. Like people would ask, “Why aren’t you having a drink,’ and it was an embarrassing topic for me. But I don’t carry that around with me anymore. Yeah, I had an issue, but I’m dealing with it. I feel so much more comfortable talking about it and living it,” he said.
The big picture: In the next five years, Strode’s goal for The Phoenix is to reach one million people recovering from substance abuse disorder, and he has even found some private donors, who have pledged to donate $50 million over the next five years.
- “My hope is ultimately to change the way we approach addiction in our country. There’s this intrinsic strength within each of us, and sometimes we just need a barbell to find it. But once the self-esteem starts smouldering, there’s no stopping it,” he said.
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