This Portland Gym Offers Free Classes for People in Recovery

Since 2019, the Recovery Gym in Northwest Portland has been redefining recovery.

By Alli Weseman September 8, 2021

Coach Emily Fox and Daniel Torres warm up on the pull bar at the Recovery Gym.

Image: Alli Weseman

Heavy metal blares from the speakers inside the Recovery Gym. Eight weight lifters watch from their squares as Emily Fox demonstrates the correct form for a hang snatch. She deadlifts a 45-pound weight bar, jumping and extending her legs and hips. She shrugs her shoulders, elbows high, locks her arms, and thrusts into a squat position. Finally, using her legs as a power base, she drives her heels back and yanks the bar above her head.

But Fox isn’t just teaching the folks here about the technical approach to a hang snatch. She’s also teaching them how to build strength in recovery. 

Fox is a coach at the Recovery Gym. Created in 2019 as a space for people receiving treatment for a mental health, substance use, or drug disorder, the gym is the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, catering to all types of recovery, not just substance and drug use. It was cofounded by trainer Shiloe Allison and Brent Canode, executive director of the Alano Club of Portland, with seed funding from the Oregon Health Authority.

“At first, we started with one class, three days a week, and there was this groundswell of support around it and [it] just really showed a pressing need in our community for something like that,” Allison says.

CrossFit and weight training classes are free for anyone in recovery and led by trainers who are also in recovery. The only rule is individuals need to be either in or seeking treatment.

As a former member, Fox is able to share the life lessons she learned with people at the gym. Now as a coach, Fox is an example of how the gym can make a difference.

Emily Fox

Image: Alli Weseman

She’s been around drugs and alcohol her whole life; her parents were both alcoholics and drug addicts. To them, they did not have a problem since they were functioning members of society. At the age of 10, however, Fox began to use drugs and alcohol as an escape from reality. “As long as you made it look good, you can be as trashy and messed up as you could be on the daily but make it look good. As a teenager I couldn’t make it good,” Fox says.

Fox first went to rehab when she was 14 for meth and cocaine. In treatment, she didn’t think it was a problem and participated in meetings simply because it was required. As soon as she completed her 30 days, she went back to her old ways.

“My addiction took me to some really dark places,” Fox says, “to suicide to sexual assault to years incarcerated to five years away from my kids and family.”

It wasn’t until March 18, 2018, when she was arrested on an outstanding warrant, that Fox decided to accept treatment. While in a 12-step meeting, she had heard about the Recovery Gym offering CrossFit opportunities to people in her situation.

That first time walking into the Recovery Gym, Fox says she was terrified, but everyone embraced her and encouraged her to keep coming back.

“The Recovery Gym saved my life,” Fox says. “What we do there gave me life and continues to give me life.”

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