Saturday, December 8th a line of new athletes reached out the door and into the stairwell at Green Mountain CrossFit. These new athletes were there to take part in a CrossFit class for the inaugural launch of The Phoenix – Vermont. What looked like any Saturday at the gym for some looked new and very different than their typical Saturday to others. Each of the athletes in line was there because they are in recovery from substance misuse disorder. This event was a new step in their recovery journey.
The Phoenix is a national nonprofit organization founded by Scott Strode, an athlete and leader who found recovery through fitness and discipline in a boxing gym in Boston. Based on his personal experience, Strode founded The Phoenix Multisport in Denver in 2006. Since then Strode and his team have been steadily expanding the reach of their program to include many different sports and locations in 20 states. “We have built a community of people in recovery across the country that are committed to helping individuals overcome substance use disorders by providing a nurturing atmosphere and support through the intrinsic power of physical activities,” said Scott Strode, Founder and Executive Director of The Phoenix. “By bringing The Phoenix to Vermont, we are providing a proven program to help build a safe, welcoming, nurturing and healing environment that is full of hope for people who have suffered from a substance use disorder and to those who choose to live sober.”
Their philosophy is simple: offer free fitness classes to those in recovery who have been sober for the last 48 hours. But the focus is not solely on fitness. As participants work out, they begin to build new connections with others who are living in recovery and sobriety. These connections are a powerful way for participants to build a new support network to continue their success in recovery.
For several years, Shannon Brennan, a licensed clinical mental health counselor at Central Vermont Substance Abuse, had contacted The Phoenix Multisport asking that they expand to Central Vermont. She “was tired of seeing her clients die” because they did not have the support systems to sustain their recovery and often fell back on old, unhealthy relationships. Brennan saw the potential that the Phoenix could bring to her clients. It wasn’t until she found partners at Green Mountain United Way and Green Mountain CrossFit that it became possible to bring The Phoenix to Central Vermont.
Tawnya Kristen of Green Mountain United Way met with Brennan and not only saw how this could be life-changing for Brennan’s clients, she saw how The Phoenix had the potential to change the recovery landscape in Vermont. As a key member of several Accountable Communities for Health in the Green Mountain United Way service region, Kristen was very familiar with data demonstrating the value of building healthy community and the impact on population health. She called a meeting with Nick Petterssen, the co-owner of Green Mountain CrossFit, who she knew would be supportive.
Together, these three community partners worked with The Phoenix to plan, train, and prepare for the launch of this first event on December 8th.
More than 25 athletes and half a dozen volunteers showed up to launch The Phoenix-Vermont. According to The Phoenix’s national office, attendance at this inaugural event was one of the two largest they have seen since expanding this programing nationwide.
Athletes who attended Saturday’s event were from many walks of life; some were experienced with CrossFit, many were not, but all showed up ready and willing to tackle a new challenge. In the opening circle just as many people responded to Kristen’s introductory question of “What are you looking forward to this week?” with “celebrating 2 months sober” or “10 years sober” as did those who were looking forward to family time or holiday shopping. The pride with which they spoke reinforced one of the main goals of The Phoenix – to eliminate the stigma of being in recovery. In the Phoenix, recovery is not something to hidden; by stepping into a Phoenix Event, athletes are not only joining a new, supportive community, but they are part of sharing and creating that community themselves.
Phoenix events will continue to happen every Saturday from noon – 1:30 pm at Green Mountain CrossFit. Those interested should go to www.thephoenix.org/participate/ to enroll prior to attending. Sign in opens at 11:30 am each Saturday. Those interested in volunteering to support events can go to Green Mountain United Way’s Volunteer Connection to sign up for dates and times at www.gmunitedway.org/volunteer.
This article was originally published in The World on Wednesday, December 19, 2018