‘Seeing that hope blossom in people reminds me that there is always hope’
– For many individuals struggling with substance abuse or veterans experiencing mental health issues like PTSD, fitness may be the last thing on their minds – but a free gym in Hays County is striving to change that narrative and change lives.
Located between North San Marcos and South Kyle, Outsiders Anonymous is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization 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, led by owner Adam Holt, was born from his experience in the military and traveling with frugality.
“After I came back from Afghanistan, I had a really, really bad slip into the ‘dark side of life,'” Holt said. “So for about five to 10 years I just tried to self-medicate a lot of things and got into a really bad addiction.
When I tried to get sober then, it was very difficult for me. It took me a few years. [I was] still destroying things in my life.”
For a period of time, Holt became homeless.
He ended up being placed in an apartment in Austin that was right outside of Big Tex Gym, which ended up being the catalyst to change his life.
“Whenever I had an urge or something, I turned to fitness instead,” Holt said. “I finally had the opportunity to do research at the UT [University of Texas at Austin] around it and was like, ‘Oh my god, this actually has real biological underpinnings.’ My experience, along with the research, sort of led to the idea that fitness could be a complementary treatment for PTSD and substance abuse.
With a newfound love for fitness and frugal living, Holt began holding free workouts in parks around Austin.
He even worked through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and ran 5Ks, which have been going on for four years now and help fund a good portion of Outsiders Anonymous’ efforts.
With the gym’s one-year anniversary of a physical space approaching, it has nearly 300 members and sees about 50 regular gym-goers throughout the day, who come from all over the country. It has “everything you could possibly need in a gym,” from weights to cardio, plus daily workout classes. There’s also an ice bath that sits around a cool 60 degrees, which has been shown to have positive physiological and psychological effects in reducing trauma reactions associated with PTSD and reducing relapse rates.
Outsiders Anonymous’ name plays on a common theme in the recovery community, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Plus, Holt started his journey to share fitness with outdoor workouts.
“It also works because everyone who comes here is kind of the ‘outsider,'” Holt said.
“They don’t really belong and so this is a place where they belong.”
However, a big message from Outsiders Anonymous is that it is not just a place for those in recovery. In fact, Holt said that about half of his 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 are not normal have someone to lean on and learn from how to do life… I mean really everyone struggles with something from within. It’s nice to be around other people who you know are going through their own things.”
The most compelling aspect of Outsiders Anonymous is that it is completely free. Holt explained that the gym is not solely based on donations, 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’ll find a way to fund what we have to,” Holt said. “Because even people who can’t afford good things deserve good things, so we’re here to be that.”
Along with the free gym and free fitness classes, Outsiders Anonymous is the only business in the country that offers free fentanyl test strips and Narcan, a life-saving medicine that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
The gym also offers free peer counseling and hosts a variety of community engagement events such as Recovery on the Plaza, Hays County’s only sober music festival, and youth nights at the gym that include a workout followed by pizza and video games.
Members also go on outings outside the gym together, such as ax throwing at Unchartered Adventures, bowling at EVO Entertainment and polar bear diving.
“We may 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 that 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 — such as hiring more peer counselors, offering veteran-specific programs, doing more community activities and eventually moving to a larger space — he’s taking the journey day by day, promising to change lives to change.
“You see people in our community who are hurting and they come here with no hope, no way forward, tried this or that, no resources, and then they come and come back another day and before you know it , they smile,” Holt said. “Seeing hope blossom in people reminds me that there is always hope. It was really cool … I wake up and I’m like, ‘I have to make a difference.’ And it’s really rewarding.”
For more information about Outsiders Anonymous, including how to become a member and find upcoming classes and events, visit www. outsidersanonymous.org.
The gym is located at 324 Riverwalk Drive, Suite 218 in San Marcos. Donations can be made at www. outsidersanonymous.org/ donate.