Members and instructors at The Phoenix gym in Denver.

(Nathan Heffel/CPR News)

There's a small, non-profit gym in downtown Denver that builds more than muscle. It's called The Phoenix. And it helps those addicted to drugs and alcohol find stability, safety and friendship through sport and exercise.

The gym is one of a network that began in Boulder in 2006, and was recently praised by the Trump administration for its fight against opioid addiction.

"We're broken when we get here and this is about building us up," says Mike Mielke, a volunteer trainer at the gym who was himself addicted to drugs and alcohol.

"For me, getting sober was hard alone, but doing it with other people was really helpful. And now I see that in an environment where we can do that working out, rock climbing, mountain biking -- for me, I think it's just spectacular."

There are now three Phoenix gyms in Colorado, with a total of nine nationwide. Kelly Cave is a paid instructor at the gym and, like Mielke, is in recovery. She was a drinker.

"Fitness wasn't exactly the first thing on my mind. I smoked cigarettes and drank coffee all day, it totally wasn't a priority," she says.

"I just knew I needed people, and somebody told me [The Phoenix] had the kind of people that I needed. You know, it's better than a bar."

Last month, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price visited the Colorado Springs location and said he heard over and over again how the gym creates the feeling of family.

Cave says it's about time the recognition came.

"You know, I've always kind of said it felt that this was the best-kept secret in Denver, and now many other places. But to get that kind of recognition, it's in a way so exciting and unbelievable. But at the same time it's like, finally!"

More than 900 people in Colorado died from overdoses last year, a record. Of those, 300 deaths were attributed to opioids. Heroin claimed another 228 lives.  President Trump has declared a national emergency in an effort to combat the epidemic.

The Phoenix is free for anyone in recovery, with a minimum of 48 hours sobriety required. Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner spoke with  CEO Scott Strode.

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