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How One Gym Owner Uses Free CrossFit Classes to Empower Hundreds in Addiction Recovery

January 3, 2024 by
Photo Credit: Neuse River CrossFit
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Kristy Hagan had a rough journey with addiction. She spent time in jail, had her children taken away from her by child protective services, and, at one point, found herself unhoused with her daughter in New York City.

  • “My addiction took me to some terrible, terrible places,” Hagan tells the Morning Chalk Up. 

Now, though, she’s 10-plus years sober and is the owner of Neuse River CrossFit in Raleigh, NC. And most importantly, Hagan is looking to give back. So when she saw that a nonprofit called The Phoenix was offering free CrossFit for anyone in addiction recovery, she knew she needed to offer a program like that at her gym.

Remind me: The Phoenix offers free physical activities, including CrossFit at various Phoenix gyms—as well as satellite gyms like Hagan’s—to anyone who has 48 hours of continued sobriety. 

The details: In 2018, The Phoenix helped guide Hagan to get her program going, and she began offering one class a week to anyone looking to stay sober. Five years later, Hagan now offers CrossFit and yoga classes twice a week and gets anywhere from 15 to 30 people attending the Sober Sunday class. 

Hundreds have attended her Phoenix classes during the past five years, many of whom have gone on to become long-time members of Neuse River CrossFit. A handful have even become CrossFit Level 1 coaches who now help her coach the Phoenix classes.

Most recently, Hagan began offering a sober class at a friend’s gym—CrossFit 4042 in Garner, NC—on Friday nights and runs a class twice a week for high school students in recovery.

  • “These kids’ stories are remarkable. A lot of them have overdosed and been brought back to life…so being part of [their recovery journey] is pretty amazing,” she says. “It’s teaching a full class of people who are genuinely grateful to be there, so it removes a lot of the [complaining about burpees] that you see in regular class because they’re just legit happy to be involved.”
Photo Credit: Neuse River CrossFit

One big thing: Not only is coaching those in recovery from addiction Hagan’s favorite part of the job, but it’s also closely tied to her own recovery. 

  • “100 percent [it has helped my own recovery] because part of being successful in recovery is feeling like you are a part of something and having a community that you can relate to…and just a feeling of belonging,” she says.

In Hagan’s case, the community has helped her transform from someone struggling with addiction who gets in trouble with the law to a “PTA mom in the SUV, wearing gym clothes with a Starbucks in hand,” she adds, laughing.

The big picture: Ten years sober, Hagan knows how important both community and fitness are for anyone who struggles with substance abuse. It’s why getting involved with The Phoenix was one of the best decisions she has ever made, both as a gym owner and as someone who has struggled in the past. 

  • “Being able to teach CrossFit as a life-saving skill is super impactful. I have not met anyone who has attended my class who hasn’t been deeply moved by some of the things that happen in that room,” Hagan says. 

Needless to say, Hagan recommends other small gym owners hop on board The Phoenix train. 

  • “It’s not going to make your gym rich by any stretch of the imagination, but we believe in giving back and trying to change lives through CrossFit,” Hagan says.

Hagan adds: “If you do good things, good things will happen. It has worked out for us.”

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