Fit To Recover: How one man’s dream changed people’s lives
Oct 31, 2016 09:55AM
By Sarah Almond
Every Saturday morning bootcamp is closed out with a traditional group breakdown and inspirational words from founder Ian Acker. “What makes FTR so unique is the amazing group of people we have here,” Acker said. “They give others hope.” (City Journals)
By Sarah Almond | [email protected]
Sugar House, Utah - What would it take to start the business of your dreams? Would you need a hefty bank loan or patented product? Would you need community involvement or the help of stakeholders? Perhaps you’d need an empty space or a few volunteers.
For Ian Acker, a base-heavy boombox and a motivational Facebook post was all he needed to bring to life his dream of creating a fitness program that catered to those struggling with addiction.
“I wanted purpose,” Acker said. “I never felt like I had any type of purpose. I wanted to create a place that was friendly and a place where people in recovery felt welcome.”
In August 2012, Acker, a recovering addict himself, took a risk: he purchased a Beats by Dr. Dre Beatbox and posted a Facebook message encouraging his friends in recovery to join him in Sugar House Park for a Saturday morning workout.
“Four people showed up,” Acker said. “But during that day I saw the connection that these people had — they were smiling and they were happy. Just that little breath of fresh air propelled me to continue to keep going. So the next week there were seven people; then 10 showed up, 15 showed up, 20 showed up.”
As word of this high-energy fitness hour spread, more and more people working through addiction started joining Acker in the park. Eventually Cold Creek Wellness Center, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center based out of Kaysville, caught wind of Acker’s growing program and began bringing treatment patients to his workouts.
“When Cold Creek signed on, that showed me that we could really do something,” Acker said.
The notable, steady growth of the Saturday morning park program signaled to Acker that there was an unmet need in the sober community: a need for physical activity, community gatherings, nutritional insights, and creative endeavors.
“After we got some play in the park, we started a run group at USARA,” Acker said. “They were nice enough to let us process and then run every Monday. So we had two things going on and then we implemented a women’s group at USARA as well, which made three things.”
Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness, or USARA, is located in downtown Salt Lake City and has played a monumental role in getting Acker’s ideas off the ground. After launching several different programs and garnering a large following at his Saturday morning Sugar House workouts, Acker decided it was time to establish a place for these programs to call home.
In January 2015, Acker opened the Fit To Recover gym at 789 W. 1390 S. in Salt Lake City.
“We started working with quite a few treatment centers and at that point we needed a building because it was getting cold and it just wasn’t working outside,” Acker said. “So we finally closed on a building, but it took a long time because people didn’t want to rent to people in recovery. But we found someone who was nice enough to rent to us, and we opened up, and we hit the ground running.”
What started as a 5,500-square-foot empty warehouse soon became a remarkable gym and community center thanks to the help of volunteers and sponsors across the valley. Today the nonprofit Fit To Recover (FTR) gym has a 20-foot-high climbing wall, more than a dozen weight racks, and ample space for group workout sessions.
“It’s been amazing to see this place grow,” said Lacey Garcia, leader of the FTR Women’s Group. “Just seeing people in recovery come and say ‘I want to build a climbing wall,’ and a climbing wall is built; or ‘I want to start a writing group’, and a writing group starts; or ‘I want to plant a garden,’ and a garden is planted. People come with ideas and we see them all the way through.”
FTR hosts more than 35 classes a week out of the gym. From strength and conditioning, to restorative yoga and nutrition workshops, to music and creative expression, and much more, each class is designed to facilitate the physical activity, nutrition, and creativity that’s invaluable when achieving long-term sobriety.
“I love it here,” said Robert Godwin, a treatment patient at the Odyssey House Rehabilitation Center and attendee of Saturday morning bootcamp. “If it wasn’t for places like this I don’t know what I would be doing. It actually ties me down and keeps me motivated to want to stay sober, to be clean, and to have a new life outside of getting high on the streets. I’m excited. I’m happy. I feel like I’ve actually found a home.”
With 100 individual members and seven different treatment centers signed up, FTR serves more than 300 people each week. Art studios, meeting rooms, a community garden, and a play room make FTR much more than the average fitness gym. Instead, it is a place where people in recovery can feel welcome, supported, encouraged, and motivated; it’s a place where community and service go hand in hand.
“Ian really believes in people and lets them express themselves how they want,” Garcia said. “And it’s cool to see us get a community impact award for all we’ve done.”
In September 2015, Acker and Garcia flew to Washington, D.C. to accept the Utah Community Impact Award from SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives. FTR was selected from 1,500 businesses across Utah for their exceptional efforts in the community. Again, in September 2016, SCORE named FTR the nation’s most Outstanding Community Impact Business.
“We were recognized for our outstanding community impact — that’s a pretty big deal,” Acker said. “I’m pretty proud of that.”
With a growing member base and additional treatment centers signing on, the future for FTR is very bright. Over the next five years, Acker hopes his business will become self-sustaining, host more programs for physical and creative outlets, and serve more than 500 people per week.
Ultimately, Acker intends to franchise the gym in order to meet the needs of those in recovery in every state.
“We’re thinking long term, not just here in Utah,” Acker said. “Because the joy is in helping people: the more people we can help, the better we feel.”
To learn more about FTR visit Fit2recover.org.