Montanans Seek Addiction Recovery Through Fitness Community

Nov 16, 2018

A boot camp class at the Phoenix in Billings. Students do exercises overseen by instructor and programs coordinator Stevie Robinson (center). Kyle Yoder seen on left.
Credit Kayla Desroches / YPR

A national non-profit organization with a focus on physical exercise as an alternative to 12-step recovery programs for people who struggle with addiction recently opened a Billings branch.

The Phoenix is planning a special class to help people cope with holiday stress.

As Thanksgiving approaches, they’re planning a special class to help locals deal with holiday stress. It’s part of a regular program that includes weekday exercise classes and yoga on the weekends.

One afternoon this week, instructor Stevie Robinson led her two boot camp students through a set of exercises. One involved crouching down with a weighted ball and then jumping up to throw the ball at a target.

Kyle Yoder, one of the participants, is a 25-year-old Ohio native recovering from an addiction to heroin. He said traditional 12-step programs have never worked for him. He joined the Phoenix two months ago.

“Just exercising is one of the biggest things for me to help me in my recovery to make me feel better than I even did when I was sober before,” said Yoder.

Yoder said he’s struggled with substance abuse for a few years now.

He said he injured his back at the age of 19. He went to seek treatment from a doctor in Montana who overprescribed him opioid pain pills.

“That really is what sparked the fire of my addiction,” said Yoder.

His doctor at the time, Chris Christensen, was sentenced in February to 20 years in prison for various felonies, including two deaths caused by overdoses.

Yoder said when no other doctors would accept him he turned to heroin.

He’s now eight months sober and studies at the Montana State University Billings.

Yoder said any city has its temptations, but he’s tried to remove himself from an environment and group of people that might lead him back into addiction.

“Billings is actually a lot easier to stay sober in than other places where there’s areas that you know you can go to score drugs on the street,” said Yoder. “And my main problem is opioids, which in Billings is still a major problem, but the major problem here is meth, which was never really attractive to me.”

Yoder said he’s found the community support of the Phoenix to be helpful.

Instructor and Programs Coordinator Stevie Robinson said the community is a big draw. She explained in addition to the physical outlet, the Phoenix can provide company and friendship.

“There’s a lot of times where I walk in here and my volunteers here just talking, hanging out, eating candy, and that’s amazing, and they all met here,” Robinson said.

Robinson, who is four years in recovery, said part of what she loved about drinking was the community. She said she was lonely when she left that behind to get sober, and she clung to fitness.

“The quality of my sobriety really took off once I starting coming to the Phoenix and started working for them,” she said.

Robinson is currently the only employee in Billings, but hopes the Phoenix will expand to two instructors in the near future.