Adventure in the Rockies

Phoenix leadColorado-based Phoenix Multisport shares the transformative power of outdoor adventure.

Sobriety initially meant loneliness for Scott Strode, founder and executive director of Phoenix Multisport, a sober, active community on Colorado’s Front Range. Strode knew that hanging out with his old crowd wasn’t an option because they were still using. After many lonely days and nights, he decided to walk into a boxing gym, where he found athletes in training, and his life changed forever. Boxing brought about a transformation within Strode. He found a new inner strength, along with a new community of friends.

He also discovered what would become a lifelong passion for helping others in recovery from substance abuse  make the powerful connection between physical strength and inner strength, between pursuing outdoor activities as a group and forging lasting friendships built on honesty and trust.

Through grants, gifts, and donations, Phoenix Multisport, a nonprofit, 501(c) (3), offers programs free of charge to participants. With chapters in Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs, Phoenix Multisport offers approximately 50 weekly activities in a wide range of intensity and skill levels—from walking and yoga classes to mountain climbing and CrossFit—all provided free. Programs are led by peer instructors who are certified in their sport. There are two annual trips each year: one to Moab, UT, in the summer and the other to Ouray, CO, to celebrate a sober New Year’s Eve by ice climbing, snowshoeing, or skiing. Phoenix Multisport also has special programs for members of the military and veteran’s community who may be struggling with substance abuse.19362573_l

Strode would like to establish Phoenix Multisport chapters across the country and continue inspiring those who struggle with substance abuse to make a positive change. He wants them to realize that their lives matter and that, when they find their new inner strength, anything is possible. “One of the most influential factors in my sobriety was getting involved in boxing and climbing,” Strode said. “I have since developed a passion for mountain biking, triathlon, running, cycling, motorcycle touring, and almost anything that gets me outside. My big passion is teaching, coaching, and sharing my excitement for all of these activities with others.

So let’s get out and do it!”

My Phoenix Story:
Rob Baumgartner, Boulder Chapter Coordinator/Senior Instructor

In the stillness of morning, my own breath was all I could hear, but it was loud. I was 125 feet up Castleton Tower, a 400-foot sandstone spire in the Utah desert. Despite the cold air, I was drenched in sweat. With each heartbeat, I could feel my forearms throb. I didn’t have much strength left.

A quick downward glance reminded me that I was about ten feet above my last piece of protection. A slip here would mean at least a 20-foot fall before the rope came taut.  At least it would be a “clean” fall, with no ledges below me. I heard Sean, my climbing partner, yell, “You got this!” Even from 12 stories below, he had somehow sensed my fear and was reassuring me.

Rob on Solar Slab

Rob on Solar Slab

I found a decent place to rest, with my right foot jammed in a crack and my left toes on a small lip no more than a half-inch wide. I tried to slow my breathing, but it wasn’t helping much. The crux—the hardest part—of the first pitch was just above me. I shook my arms and felt my strength return. It was time to move.

A challenging three hours later, I finally climbed over the lip at the top and looked all around. To the east, the snow-capped peaks of the La Sal Mountains glimmered in the sunshine. To the west, I could see the Colorado River basin and Arches National Park beyond. We had done it! We had achieved our goal.

I started climbing just over five years ago, soon after I made the monumental decision to get sober. I had grown up in Boulder, CO, a mecca for climbing, and had always wanted to try it, but every time I had the money, I spent it on drugs or alcohol instead.

A few months into sobriety, I read about Phoenix Multisport and decided to check out a climbing event at the Boulder Rock Club. It was incredible. I kept going to events and haven’t looked back since. In 2009, I actually made a career of it, when I was hired to work as a climbing instructor for Phoenix.

As an instructor, I’ve had a unique opportunity to witness how climbing can have a significant and sometimes immediate impact on individuals.

Maybe the biggest transformation is evident in an inpatient setting. People walk into the gym with their shoulders hunched, eyes on the floor, shut down and sometimes angry, the tire tracks of their addictions clearly visible. They look beaten. After watching a few people climb, they finally decide to take a stab at the wall. As I help them into a harness and explain the safety precautions, their defenses drop just a little. By the time they’re up on the wall, listening to my voice guide them to the next hold, we’ve established a foundation of trust. I see a clear transformation in them as climbing engages both mind and body.

I think my favorite part of being an instructor for Phoenix is watching people in early sobriety shake off their doubts and fears and discover just how strong they really are. I love the look of shock and excitement when their feet hit the ground after their very first climb, and I hear them say what we all said in the beginning: “I had no idea I could do that!”

My Phoenix Story:
Betsy Casey, Development Assistant, Denver Chapter

In 2009, at about four months sober, one of my friends from a 12-Step recovery program told me about this place where sober people could climb for free. I thought he was joking. It sounded too good to be true. With a little convincing, I eventually showed up at the Boulder Rock Club, curious and,

I’ll admit, a little skeptical.

Betsy and two team members in Moab

Betsy and two team members in Moab

I just remember looking around this big room and seeing people smiling, laughing, and talking about climbing as they donned harnesses and tied climbing shoes. There were dozens of people gearing up for this Phoenix Multisport climbing night. I remember thinking, “There’s no way all of these people are sober climbers—and there’s no way this is free!”  Turns out, I was wrong on both counts.

That night I met a dozen new sober friends. I learned how to tie in. I was taught how to safely climb and use proper belay climbing techniques and communication commands. But that night, I took away much more than climbing skills. I felt so relieved to know a place like this existed—something that combined physical activity, recovery, community, and fun. I remember leaving that night feeling inspired and grateful.

Climbing changed so much for me. When you first get sober, it’s all about starting over. At the beginning of my recovery, I felt so beaten by addiction. It had taken my sense of self-worth, my friends, job opportunities, relationships, my health . . .  That was a very dark time. It was also riddled with anxiety because in early recovery, it’s easy to fall into all the things you’ve done wrong and all the things you regret doing while you were using.

When I climbed, though, I wasn’t dwelling on those regrets. I wasn’t caught in the past. Climbing reframed my perspective by focusing on all the things I could do. It taught me to be present in what was happening right now. I began to feel proud of myself, and with that newfound pride grew a respect for my body and what physical activity can do for it. Pretty soon, I found myself surpassing my own expectations. I’d get down from the top of a climb, fingers cramping, forearms pumped, legs shaking and exhausted, but none of that mattered because I had made it to the top. I had accomplished my goal!

I used to have a nonstop tornado of thoughts swirling in my brain, but every time I drove home from a climbing event, that tornado would grow quiet. The thing I loved most about climbing was how strong it made me feel. It’s difficult to describe how success and empowerment in one area can transfer to another, but it did, and on those days when staying sober seemed impossible, I would think about the times when I thought I’d never be able to climb a route—but then I had climbed it. Every time I climb, I am reminded that I am so much stronger than I think I am, both mentally and physically. It gives me the courage to face another day of recovery.

I spent so much time hanging around Phoenix that after I graduated from college, they offered me a job! I’m now involved with fundraising and am having a blast. I believe in the Phoenix mission so much that I have no trouble sharing it with donors and encouraging them to support us. This organization is truly making a difference for people in recovery. I know. I’m  one of those people.

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