Teen Austin Donihoo Used CrossFit to Help Overcome Drug and Alcohol Addiction
At the 2022 Pit Elite Teen Throwdown, athletes took a break from the stress and work of competing to attend a Saturday night bonfire, complete with Zevia, candy and football. At the center of the football scrimmage was 16-year-old Austin Donihoo–chatting, laughing, and getting rowdy with his fellow competitors.
Two years ago, though, Donihoo was in a very different place, falling down a rabbit hole of addiction. He has Asperger’s Syndrome, a subcategory of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and struggles with sensory input issues as a comorbidity. For Donihoo, this means he seeks out constant sensory input, and the chemical release of taking drugs satisfies that need. In 2020, he started to spiral as he drank alcohol, did drugs, and developed depression. His family sent him to a rehabilitation center, where Donihoo was able to regain his footing and start making progress.
Another major factor in his recovery? CrossFit.
- “Right when he got back from his treatment center, we were all on high alert for a good six months to a year,” Donihoo’s father, Kyle Donihoo, said. “He didn’t have a lot of freedom, so basically all he did was CrossFit.”
Donihoo’s parents, Kyle and Jennifer Donihoo, started CrossFit six years ago at CrossFit Koda Native, and eventually brought Austin along. However, it wasn’t until after returning from his treatment center that Donihoo got more involved in the sport, and has since made it a home.
- “CrossFit has been really good for him,” Jennifer Donihoo said. “The community all know his story, they support him and ask about him and are always looking out for him. It’s another point of accountability we have in place, which is so important for me.”
Now that he’s able to drive, Donihoo started his training sessions at 6am during the summer, usually working out for two or three hours. His season culminated at the 2022 Pit Teen Throwdown in early September, where he placed 19th in the 16-17 Boys division. Though he wasn’t satisfied with his finish on the leaderboard, Donihoo recognizes the progress he’s made, both physically and mentally.
- “The mental development has come a long way,” Donihoo said. “I’ve definitely been able to power through workouts better. Last year if I’d get in a rough spot in a workout, I’d rest a bunch and now I can just power through it.”
His parents have also observed improvements in Donihoo’s mental health. While he used to struggle with mood regulation, focus, and eye contact, his mother says there have been noticeable developments in the area.
- “Just being around people in the gym all the time has helped him tremendously. He has people he can show up and have a good time with everyday,” Jennifer said. “They’re supportive of him too. It’s good to be in that culture.
Of course, Donihoo is also happy to see physical improvements.
- Donihoo: “It’s really nice being able to be strong and muscular and stuff.”
Up next for Donihoo is the Wodapalooza Online Qualifier, where he will try to earn a spot in the 16-18 Boys division in Miami. In addition, he’s already looking forward to the charity competition his family hosts that raises money for families with autistic children. Each year, a new family is chosen and all the funds raised go to paying for medical bills, clothes, therapy, and whatever else might be required to support the child.
- “It’s the best checks I get to write,” Jennifer said. “This year, the family had two autistic boys and were able to pay for both of them to go to speech camp. We’ve paid for group therapy, we’ve paid for clothing and medical bills.”
While Donihoo has experienced lots of hardship in his life, especially over the last few years, he’s “powered through” and grown, in large part thanks to CrossFit.
Jennifer Donihoo: “It’s been a rough two years, but it’s been exciting to see where he was and where he is now. The growth (he’s experienced) with embracing CrossFit and fully being all in on it.”