Recovery gym changes lives through fitness, community

‘Seeing that hope blossom in people reminds me that there’s always hope’

— For many individuals struggling with substance abuse or veterans experiencing mental health struggles like PTSD, fitness may be the last thing on their minds — but a free gym in Hays County is striving to shift that narrative and change lives.

Sandwiched between north San Marcos and south Kyle, Outsiders Anonymous is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit and Hays County’s only free gym focused on encouraging healthy living for community members in recovery, struggling veterans and everyone in between.

The gym officially opened its doors in May 2022. The idea, spearheaded by owner Adam Holt, was born out of his experience in the military and journey with sobriety.

“After I got back from Afghanistan, I had a really, really bad slip into the ‘dark side of life,’” Holt said. “So for like five to 10 years, I was just trying to self-medicate a lot of things and got a really bad addiction.

Then when I tried to get sober, it was really hard for me. It took me a couple years. [I was] still destroying things in my life.”

For a period of time, Holt became homeless.

He was eventually placed in an apartment in Austin that was right outside Big Tex Gym, which ended up being the catalyst for changing his life around.

“Whenever I had a craving or something, I turned to fitness instead,” Holt said. “I eventually had the opportunity to do some research at UT [University of Texas at Austin] around it and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this actually has real biological underpinnings.’ My experience, coupled with the research, sort of led to this idea that fitness can be an adjunctive treatment for PTSD and substance abuse.”

With a newfound love of fitness and sober lifestyle, Holt began holding free workouts in parks around Austin.

He even worked through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and held 5Ks, which have now been going on for four years and helps fund a good portion of Outsiders Anonymous’ endeavors.

With the gym’s one year anniversary of being in a physical space approaching, it has nearly 300 members and sees about 50 regular gymgoers throughout the day, coming from all over the county. It has “everything you could possibly need in a gym” from weights to cardio, plus daily workout classes. There’s also an ice bath sitting around a cool 60 degrees, which has proven to have positive physiological and psychological effects in reducing trauma responses associated with PTSD and reducing relapse rates.

Outsiders Anonymous’ name plays on a common theme in the recovery community, like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Plus, Holt started his journey sharing fitness with outside workouts.

“It also works because everybody who comes here is sort of the ‘outsider,’” Holt said.

“They don’t really belong and so this is a place where they belong.”

However, a big message of Outsiders Anonymous is that this isn’t just a place for those in recovery. In fact, Holt said that about half of its members aren’t, nor are they veterans — they just want to “support the community,” including first responders and people who aren’t into the “gym culture.”

“I call them ‘normal people,’” Holt said with a laugh. “We want ‘normal people’ to be a part of what we do, so that us people who aren’t normal have someone to lean on and learn how to do life from … I mean, really everybody is battling something inside. It’s cool to be around other people that you know are going through their own stuff.”

The most compelling aspect of Outsiders Anonymous is that it is completely free. Holt explained that the gym is not solely donation based, and that members are never pressured for money. T-shirt printing, 5Ks and all proceeds made from his fitness equipment manufacturing business, The Unbranded Fitness, support the nonprofit.

“It’s all free because there are some people out there [and] some corporations that really support what we’re doing, so we will find a way to fund what we need to,” Holt said. “Because even people who can’t afford good things deserve good things, so we are here to be that.”

Along with the free gym and free fitness classes, Outsiders Anonymous is the only establishment in the county which offers free fentanyl testing strips and Narcan, a life-saving medicine that can rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The gym also provides free peer counseling and hosts a variety of community engagement events like Recovery on the Plaza, Hays County’s only sober music festival, and youth nights at the gym which include a workout followed by pizza and video games.

Members also go on excursions outside the gym together, like ax throwing at Unchartered Adventures, bowling at EVO Entertainment and polar bear plunges.

“We might look like a gym, but we’re really a community,” Holt said.

“We’re still new and figuring out what we want to do, but we’re just trying to create something fun and impactful,” he continued. “Seeing what the community needs and how we can respond to it has been really neat … We really want to focus on all community members, from veterans to high school kids.”

While Holt has many plans for the future — like hiring more peer counselors, offering veteran-specific programs, doing more community activities and eventually moving into a larger space — he takes the journey day by day, with the promise of changing lives.

“You see people in our community that are hurting and they come here with no hope, no way forward having tried this or that, no resources, and then they come and come back another day and before you know it they’re smiling,” Holt said. “Seeing that hope blossom in people reminds me that there’s always hope. That’s been really cool … I wake up and I’m like, ‘I get to make a difference.’ And it’s really rewarding.”

For more information on Outsiders Anonymous, including how to become a member and find upcoming classes and events, visit www.

The gym is located at 324 Riverwalk Drive, Suite 218 in San Marcos. Donations can be made at www. donate.

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