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Wichita’s Phoenix gym provides community for those struggling with addiction

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Kylie Cameron
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KMUIW
Coach Cody Palmer bumps fists at the end of class with members at The Phoenix.

It’s part of a chain of gyms nationwide working to provide community and support for people in recovery from addiction.

The Phoenix in downtown Wichita is just like any other gym – but with one stipulation.

People who want to use the facility can use it for free only with 48 hours of continuous sobriety.

It’s part of a chain of gyms nationwide working to provide community and support for people in recovery from addiction.

“Recovery is all inclusive, every human being on this planet is in recovery from something,” said Senior Program Coordinator Maria Nelson.

The gym near 1st and Washington offers CrossFit, yoga and high interval training classes, as well as an open gym. Some nearby rehab centers also bring their clients in for private classes.

With only three paid staff members, The Phoenix relies mostly on volunteers to help run the nonprofit facility and coach classes.

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Kylie Cameron
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KMUW
Senior Program Coordinator Maria Nelson (left) and Nick Starbird (right) chat during an open gym time in October.

Nick Starbird is one of the staff members; he’s a CrossFit coach for The Phoenix. He began using the facility about 15 months ago and became a volunteer.

“At the time, I would say it was a pretty low place in my life,” Starbird said. “I was homeless. I weighed about 175 (pounds) … I was already kicked out of an Oxford house. I've been kicked out of a couple other AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) houses, I believe from my attitude.

“I needed to shower pretty bad, and I just happened to be walking by. So I stumbled in and found that I could take a shower as long as I worked out.”

From there, the gym helped build a community that Starbird said supported him and others in sobriety.

“Just the way they literally looked at me,” Starbird said, “the way they talked to me just with respect … like I was a human being, which I mean you don't get when you're out there and you run around and you go through the places I go through.

“People … look at you different, I promise you that.”

That was also the case for volunteer coach Cody Palmer, who’s been with The Phoenix since it opened locally in 2020.

“We all know what it's like … so that empathy is easy,” Palmer said. “Like, knowing that struggle, … knowing that what it takes is a community and somebody that cares to help pull these individuals out of it.

”Without that, none of us can do this on our own.”

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Kylie Cameron
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KMUW
Senior Program Coordinator Maria Nelson picks up weights around the gym after an open gym time.

That’s helped them change lives.

“It gives us another tool to help us in the fight against addiction,” Palmer said. “So you're helping give people purpose and show them that recovery is possible.”

But it’s not just members' lives who are changed when they walk in the door – it’s everyone’s.

“I can't tell you how many people have come in, and they may not have talked for two weeks,” Nelson said, “and then now they're this social butterfly. It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, it's so amazing to see your personality just blossom.’”

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.