In 2013, Miles Yaryan was working his way through drug court. The county program offers court-monitored rehabilitation as an alternative to jail time for eligible offenders.
Yaryan knew then that part of his recovery and rebuilding a healthy life would include embracing the activities he’d always loved: soccer, mountain biking, skiing. They all helped him graduate from drug court in 2015. Getting out on the ski hill also helped him get sober again after a brief relapse last winter.
“My activity is a huge part of staying healthy,” said Yaryan. “I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be the same for everybody, finding an activity they love.”
Yaryan, who’s 26 and who has opened his own landscaping company, has found a new program that combines sports and sobriety: the nonprofit Phoenix Multisport.
Yaryan’s counselor, a triathlete, suggested Phoenix Multisport after she saw how well Yaryan benefited from physical activity and knew how to use it as a recovery tool.
The organization, named for the mythical bird that rises from the ashes, is just getting started in the Treasure Valley. It offers free athletic classes and outings, including CrossFit (a notoriously challenging fitness program), dance and snowshoeing to participants.
Classes are scaled for participants’ abilities, said Ginny Gobel, executive director of the Boise Phoenix Multisport program. The only requirement for attending a class or outing is a minimum of 48 hours of continuous sobriety. Attendees who become regulars must commit to a sober lifestyle.
The program recognizes that recovery is complicated and multi-faceted. Beyond physical challenges that come with beating addictions, recovery often requires reconceptualizing an entire social life, especially if a person’s past social sphere included substance abuse. That’s why Phoenix Multisport also offers social outings, whether that’s a potluck or a walk in the Foothills.
“You need to know you have a place where no one’s going to show up with a six pack of beer,” Gobel said.
Relapse rates for Phoenix Multisport participants are 23 percent. According to the organization, 77 percent of participants say they believe participation in the program helped them stay out of legal trouble caused by their addiction.
Phoenix Multisport’s Latin motto is “Per ignum, ad astra,” or “Through the fire, to the stars.”
Phoenix Multisport has partnered with Boise gyms and dance studios that have donated their space and instructors. Classes will take place every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday through the end of this month, said Gobel.
After February, classes will be on a case-by-case basis, depending on available gym space. The social outings, like hikes in the Foothills and potlucks that don’t depend on gym space, will continue.
Alissa Rossman, an owner of CrossFit Rally Point in Garden City, said her gym will continue to donate space. CrossFit Rally Point hosts Friday night classes for Phoenix Multisport.
“Almost everyone has been touched or affected by drug or alcohol addiction in some way, and recovery is such a difficult path when you’re on your own,” Rossman said.
Her gym has lots of members who work in law enforcement, probation and parole. She had often talked with them about starting an exercise program to help people in recovery or those leaving the criminal justice system. Phoenix Multisport was a good fit.
“This is a great environment for people to meet other people with a common goal, staying clean and sober and finding a community that supports their new lifestyle,” said Rossman.
“My experience with people who have had an addiction is that they need to find something to replace the drugs or alcohol. CrossFit is the whole package. It helps people gain confidence by doing things they never thought they’d be able to.”
Both Boise CrossFit and dance instructor Kris Taylor-Duynslager have also donated their time and space to the program.
A growing roster of chapters and creative sustainability
Phoenix Multisport, which is mostly supported by grants and donations, is in its Boise launch phase, Gobel said. It’s off to a promising start. Gobel received an Idaho Volunteer Brightest Star Award in January for her work to launch the program.
Phoenix Multisport also received a $10,000 donation from an anonymous donor. The group is trying to build on that donation to be able to hire a full-time instructor. That person will run Phoenix Multisport’s “fee for service” program that will take athletic classes on-site to treatment and rehabilitation centers, maybe even jails, said Gobel.
The fees collected from those programs will help keep classes free for Phoenix Multisport participants. The organization’s goal is to eventually open a permanent Boise chapter with its own home gym so that it doesn’t have to rely on donated space. A home would also allow the nonprofit to expand its offerings and fee-for- service program.
The group would also rent space in its facility to organizations that share its mission, said Gobel. That could include homeless shelters that focus on housing and feeding people and don’t have the time and resources to offer healthy activities and group recovery programs.
Phoenix Multisport started its first program in Boulder, Colorado, in 2006 and was founded by Scott Strode, an alcoholic in recovery. It’s since opened chapters in Orange County, Calif. and Boston, as well as Colorado Springs and Denver, Gobel said.
The organizations in Boston and Orange County help sustain themselves through the fee-for-service partnerships, but also through traditional for-profit gyms that operate side by side with and help support the nonprofit recovery gyms.
“The people who would be paying gym fees anyway know that they will be paying to support this cause,” said Gobel.
The recent classes and outings in Boise have been attracting between five and 15 participants. A recent free snowshoeing outing at Bogus Basin included 14 people, ranging in age from 21 to 70.
Want to try Phoenix Multisport?
Keep up with the latest class and activity schedule and click the Boise link at phoenixmultisport.org
Gobel asks participants to go online to fill out a registration form, member agreement and waiver before attending a class or event, if possible. If it’s not possible, show up at least 15 minutes early to fill out your form in person.