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THE PICTURE: The Phoenix Spreads Its Wings

September 27, 2021

min read

Scott Strode is a man on a mission. A mission to help thousands of people struggling with substance use disorder. But there was a time in Scott’s life when he wasn’t sure he could even help himself.

“For me, the last night I used, I realized how my life was going to end if I kept on with my addiction,” he reflects. “I was on a bender, and I just couldn’t imagine somebody having to tell my mom that’s how I died.”

For Scott, the antidote was a boxing gym.

“For me, getting into the boxing gym was really transformational because the coaches believed in me, even if I didn’t believe in myself,” he says. “Once I started to hold that belief, that helped me start to heal from my addiction.”

That experience is why Scott founded The Phoenix in 2006 – a nonprofit sober, active community that helps people overcome the stigma of substance use disorder to rise, recover and live. Halfway across the country from the Boston gym where Scott recovered, he opened his first The Phoenix gym in Colorado.

The only membership fee is 48 hours of sobriety and an agreement to treat other visitors with support and kindness. “The heaviest weight is the front door,” Scott shares as a reminder that the toughest challenge is making the choice to show up. Everyone is welcome at The Phoenix, even those who are not recovering from drug and alcohol use. More than 20,000 new members have now joined The Phoenix at its locations across America.

One of those people is Keith Dockter. “At one point in my addiction, I had about a $300-a-day heroin habit,” says Keith. “I got on my knees and asked God, ‘Please help me before I kill myself,’ because I was so tired of hurting my family, my friends and myself.”

A treatment center contacted Keith that same weekend and offered him the opportunity to receive 90 days of inpatient care. As part of his long-term recovery, Keith found solace through fitness. He credits The Phoenix with providing a place where he can receive a healthy dose of endorphins from exercise and share mutual encouragement with other members to maintain sobriety. He is now more than five years sober and working as an outreach specialist for others in need of treatment.

“Community is so important,” says Keith. “I think there are many pathways to recovery. Everybody has to find their own way. I know what recovery has done for my life. I know what fitness has done for my life. I want to do whatever I can to help support this place so it can be a part of other people’s lives.”

The Phoenix

Keith Dockter, an active member of The Phoenix community in Wichita, says his recovery from drug and alcohol addiction inspires him to help others find the support they need to overcome substance use disorder.

With assistance from the Stand Together Foundation, an organization founded by Charles Koch that works to support innovative nonprofits, Scott increased his projections of how many people The Phoenix could help recover through exercise and a sense of community.   

“Why not hundreds of thousands of people, or even millions?” says Scott.

“The gym [in Boston] is right in the middle of what they call 'Methadone Mile.' It’s one of the toughest areas in the country,” says Chase Koch, founder of Stand Together Ventures, of his first workout at The Phoenix. “They partnered me up with this guy and he told me his story.”

The man informed Chase of how The Phoenix saved his life.

Since then, Chase and other members of the Stand Together community have helped The Phoenix grow across more than 23 states, including a location near Koch Industries’ headquarters in Wichita, Kansas.

An independent report issued by Brett Wyker, MS, and Jacki Hillios, Ph.D., in November 2020 gives more context to success rates at The Phoenix. Their study revealed that 87% of members at The Phoenix remained sober after three months.

For Scott Strode, that number is more than a data point. It represents the lives of people like himself who have risen from the ashes of addiction. “We’re just getting started. Right now, there’s somebody using, thinking there’s no hope. We just have to scoop them up with love and get them to a Phoenix event and help them believe that recovery is possible. Knowing we can do that is what keeps driving me.”


Hear more from Scott and Keith in this episode of The Picture, a Koch Industries Spotlight Series telling inspirational stories from Koch's hometown, Wichita, Kansas.