James Johnson is very open and honest about his past. He’ll tell you about the day he missed his daughter’s birth because he had been strung out on methamphetamine. He’ll tell you about the night he committed a home invasion to steal drugs and money from drug dealers, which lead to his arrest and ultimately a 7 year prison sentence at the Utah State Penitentiary. He’ll also tell you how his release from prison in January 2019 felt more like a continued sentence than freedom.
“I still felt like I was in prison. I was really struggling, I was alone. I just felt like [home] was a nicer prison,” Johnson said. Committed to leave the drug life behind, Johnson starting running and working out, posting videos on social media to reach out to others because he knew he needed that support too. That’s when Blu Robinson reached out to him.
As a substance abuse therapist, and a recovering addict himself, Robinson knew the struggles of recovery. After witnessing several clients forging documents they had attended meetings as part of their recovery process, he questioned them. The clients admitted the typical programs like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) just weren’t working for them.
That’s when Addict II Athlete was born.
“It’s the team approach that seems to be working the best. It’s the service, it’s the team unity. It bonds the team together,” Robinson said during a fundraiser for the Uintah Basin Addict II Athlete Chapter on Saturday night. Robinson said these meetings are different from other groups because its mission is to erase addiction and replace it with a more natural and holistic way to recover, like group workouts, bike rides and marathons.
Since the Uintah Basin chapter began in July, the program has already begun to see success for participants. Kelson Beard found Addict II Athlete completely by accident during the Vernal Recovery Days this summer. At the time, Beard was 8 months sober following a 6 year addiction to heroin. Beard said he was a pretty decent kid growing up and came from a stable household. Once at college, Beard went straight from smoking marijuana to shooting heroin. It took getting arrested and spending 2 months in jail for Beard to finally face his addiction and get clean.
After jail, however, Beard struggled to be engaged in his sobriety.
“It’s helpful to sit around and talk about things, like you do at NA and AA, but for some people, and I’m one of those people, it’s not necessarily enough. I need something more, specifically. I like having that physical outlet.” In the 2 months since joining Addict II Athlete, Beard has quit smoking and can now run the full 5k program, whereas in the beginning he could barely run a mile.
Despite the name, Johnson said that people of all walks of life and backgrounds, whether they’re in recovery or not, are invited to attend the free weekly meetings.
“What do people in recovery need? And everybody always says the same thing: support. And we do need support, but what we really need is people that aren’t in recovery in our lives,” Johnson said.
Addict II Athlete also tears the walls of anonymity and encourages athletes to share their stories with others in recovery or those who have been impacted by drug use. Many participants, including Team Captain Heath McDougal-Deans, bring their family members, including children, to the meeting.
“I think a program like this, where you can really feel like a family, is great. My oldest daughter attends the meetings with me and it’s been a way that we’ve been able to bond back together and kind of erase that time I wasn’t there for her [when I was using drugs],” said McDougal-Deans.
The weekly meeting, and subsequent 1 hour workout, is held every Saturday night at 6pm at Vernal Crossfit, 54 East Main Street, Vernal.
To learn more about the Uintah Basin chapter, search “Uintah Basin Addict II Athlete” on Facebook. For more free resources, including podcasts and links to chapters, visit addicttoathlete.org.