Home Free

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***Athlete Daily is dedicated to educating people about fitness, nutrition, and recovery. We are also committed to bringing you inspirational stories from around the world. This is a first-person column written by Kevin Foley, the owner of CrossFit HomeBase, and a combat Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Suicide is a veteran’s biggest threat and I would be lying if I said I haven’t thought of it.

As a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I can tell you firsthand that there are few outlets to cater to the overwhelming desire for purpose and fulfillment upon returning home as a combat veteran. After experiencing the positive influence our armed forces can have upon the world as a whole, leaving something of such importance forced me -and many other veterans- to try to fill that void.

On any given day in a small corner of Massachusetts, people from all walks of life come into my gym. For some, it’s the best hour of their day. A chance to make a change or forget all of the outside pressures and stress in their lives.

These four walls have saved mine.

After military enlistment, I enrolled in a state college and majored in criminal justice. I thought becoming a police officer would give me the opportunity to help others, and satisfy the inner need to serve my country and community when I returned.

But I wasn’t the same person that left.

After I served, I was fighting for control over my thoughts and actions. No veteran wants to be labeled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even though it’s a completely normal way for your mind to process traumatic events. Nothing felt normal to me at the time.

On the outside, I had the persona of a soldier and police officer. But internally I was slowly losing ground in the battle for my mental well-being. The repercussions of wearing a uniform and carrying a firearm again were more taxing than I thought, routinely putting me in a dark place.

After six years as a police officer, I willingly left my job with no real plan for the future. I knew a change was necessary, but I didn’t know how to go about it.

Eventually, I sought help from the Home Base Program at Mass General Hospital. And I began to discover the right path.

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In honor of the Home Base Program at Mass General Hospital, I named my affiliate CrossFit HomeBase. My life was, and always will be, geared towards self-sacrifice rather than self-preservation. I believe that creating an environment where one can achieve a deeper understanding of themselves through fitness is my purpose for existing.

Veterans who walk through HomeBase’s doors are welcomed, are accepted and are taken in free of charge. We have special small group classes for OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) and OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).

As we journey through life, our mental strength far exceeds the necessity for our physical strength. Life hits everyone hard at some point, and we need to be prepared for that. I am entirely convinced fitness prepares us for those moments in life.

hpme_free_3Ben Franklin said it best, “The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” I am a combination of all my life experiences and I cannot change that. I can control how I view those experiences and how I use them to move forward in life. I can continue to inspire and know I am better for my experiences both good and bad.

It started with a friend urging me to apply for a part-time coaching job at Reebok CrossFit ONE. I had been doing CrossFit since 2007, but just as a hobby. I was aware of the benefits fitness had on the soul. I wasn’t aware of how much it could change my mental health.

Being a member of Austin Malleolo’s team inspired me and it wasn’t long before I made the decision to become my own affiliate owner.

I wanted to focus on the positive energy people have within them. In doing so, I found my own inner peace and happiness through proper nutrition, physical fitness, and mental wellness. It became my goal to pass on what I felt inside to as many people as I could.
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In 2014, Foley’s platoon mate, Derek McElroy was inspired by his friend’s life turnaround through updates on Foley’s Facebook page. McElroy, who also dealt with PTSD, was in a dark spot when he gave CrossFit a try in Oklahoma City. He was immediately hooked and opened his own affiliate in September. Its name? CrossFit HomeBase Central.