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Unleashing a life

June 14, 2013
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Phoenix Multisport

“We’re kind of missing the mark if we’re just happy that we didn’t drink today.”

Number-crunchers might measure treatment and recovery success in a person’s uninterrupted stretch of sobriety. But those who have lived it, like Scott Strode, prefer to portray recovery as building a life.

Strode makes his comment about “missing the mark” after recalling that in his early recovery, the sober acquaintances he would come across seemed to have mastered abstinence but practically nothing else.

“The only guys I knew in recovery were socially anxious—they were stuck in the moment when they decided to get sober,” says Strode. “I didn’t see a lot of dreaming.”

At Phoenix Multisport, the physically active and supportive sober community that Strode founded in 2007, people dare to dream.

The mountains, bike runs and fitness facilities of Colorado serve as the backdrop for these dreams. But Strode would say that defining Phoenix Multisport by reciting a list of the physical activities its members engage in misses the point. For the more than 6,000 individuals who have been part of this sober community over the past six years, climbing a mountain or completing a triathlon has been a vehicle for unleashing something even more satisfying.

As one member quoted on the nonprofit organization’s website describes it, “The fellowship of Phoenix Multisport has changed my life and filled in me the missing piece my sober life was calling for.”

Not a substitute addiction
Strode got sober at age 24; he had started drinking at a very young age and was regularly using cocaine and other drugs by 15. A pivotal moment that would shape his alcohol recovery occurred when he was so paranoid after a binge that he hid out in his apartment bathroom convinced that his mother would find him having overdosed there.

He went through alcohol withdrawal totally on his own, and in those moments he says the gym became his savior. Ironically, he had worked in therapeutic recreation in the final years of his active addiction but was not particularly fit himself.

However, Strode’s discovery of athletic pursuits soon would become a total immersion. “I went to the other extreme,” he says. At Phoenix Multisport, he therefore brings a consistent voice of balance to the activities, so that members don’t run the risk of substituting one addiction for another.

“You actually get strong on your rest days,” says Strode, now 40 and having celebrated 16 years of sobriety in April. “The days you train are the days you break your body down.”

Strode first took to boxing in his early sobriety, then steered away from what he saw as some of its less healthy aspects and began to pursue activities such as ice climbing, mountaineering and triathlons. As he began to set and achieve goals, he experienced meaningful change in his self-esteem.

“I started to give myself a new identity,” he recalls. “It helped me let go of my shame, where I had viewed myself as a loser.”

Much of this achievement grew out of the relationships Strode was forging with other sober individuals through overcoming obstacles together and achieving common fitness goals. “When you face some greater adversity together, you build a bond,” he says. “That’s the start of a friendship.”

From there, Strode and his climbing partner at the time, Ben Cort, didn’t have to make much of a leap to envision an entire sober community that could try new experiences together and spend their time talking not about their addiction, but about their dreams. Phoenix Multisport thus would be born, with Cort becoming one of its first full-time employees. Cort left the organization last year to work on the advocacy effort against Colorado’s marijuana legalization initiative.

Free access
Adopting the model of a running or cycling club, Phoenix Multisport started modestly with a handful of scheduled hikes, rides and climbs. “There was literally one guy at each event, and people would ask, ‘Will somebody else be here next week besides me?’” Strode recalls.

Yet it wouldn’t be long before participation would grow exponentially, as word traveled that Phoenix Multisport offered a safe and satisfying experience for the sober community.

Membership is free of charge to participants, and they decide how much or how little to pursue. Individual and corporate support largely finances Phoenix Multisport’s activities.

The organization essentially carries only two requirements for participation. Individuals must be 48 hours sober, and they must accept a team member agreement that prohibits any behaviors that are not nurturing or supportive of the group.

“This is not a dating club,” says Strode. In fact, he says that about 40% of members are women, who find a safe and recovery-affirming environment there.

The group attracts individuals of varying fitness levels and backgrounds. Strode says many members are in the 30s age range and have had a lengthy addiction history.

Phoenix Multisport also has built relationships with several treatment facilities in the community. It offers wellness activities for individuals while they are still in treatment at a handful of centers, and in one case its members visit a treatment center in evening hours to use the facility’s climbing gym.

A national leader in alumni programming for treatment centers says the Colorado-based facility where she works considers itself fortunate to have Phoenix Multisport in its backyard.