Dr. Ron Gellis has seen the benefits of CrossFit’s community firsthand, having found the fitness program a decade ago and setting up a Facebook group for veterans to connect and support each other in a 12-step program that included functional fitness.
Now, Gellis is using CrossFit to make an impact even closer to home.
Four years ago, Gellis’ son was in Virginia and he realized how many veterans can benefit from continued care. Gellis —a clinical psychologist — began plans to set up a treatment program, sort of an in-person version of the thriving Facebook community he had created. But that all changed last year when his daughter was sexually assaulted in the military and subsequently died of a drug overdose.
Gellis immediately shifted the program to helping women veterans, one of four of whom will experience military sexual trauma (MST).
The stats are sobering: of the average 22 military suicides that occur daily, the risk for women veterans is 12 times higher. The average wait time for a half-hour appointment with a trauma counselor at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)? About two months.
Operation 22 MST, a fundraising effort for the the Integrated Recovery Foundation, aims to better those odds by giving female veterans an outlet to heal.
Launched in May, the free integrated recovery program —which will open a 25-acre treatment facility later this summer— will help female vets dealing with MST and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The best part? You can help just by working out.
On the 22nd of every month, Operation MST releases a new workout. You can do the workout on your own, with a group of friends or get your gym together to raise awareness. The workout is free to do, but you become a registered athlete and join the leaderboard with a $50 annual donation.
CrossFit gyms around the country have banded together to make these workouts a monthly community event, raising funds on their own for the initiative.
All of the money raised from the monthly workouts goes toward the treatment center.
“These are staggering statistics,” Gellis said. “[CrossFit Games athlete] Josh Bridges announced one of our workouts and he was blown away. It’s just incomprehensible. It’s an ugly reality of our life.”
Once the monthly workout is released, participants can do it at any time. They can re-do if they wish, similar to the CrossFit Open, before submitting their score. New registrants can also go back and submit workout scores from previous months.
“It’s got the same age groups as The [CrossFit Games], except it goes up a little higher [in age],” Gellis said. “You can do it RX or scaled. Our plan moving forward is to have boxes do it- either as a Friday Night Lights or something. Gyms do it either as an event or as part of the WOD.”
The residential treatment center, will offer hiking and yoga in addition to CrossFit classes. Keeping people physically active is an important part of the process. But, Gellis thinks, nothing offers the same community benefits as CrossFit.
“The main thing is building up the connection with CrossFit and the strength of the community that is offered to these women,” he said. “Anybody who starts to feel better about themselves in whatever form is going to change their sense of well being. I look at CrossFit as social rehabilitation.”
Initially, the treatment center will house 24 women who will go through 90 days of treatment. Ellis hopes to expand it to 80 women and, eventually, make it a national treatment center.
“When they go home, many of them will be committed CrossFitters, or maybe wanting to compete, but that’s not really our point,” Gellis said of the center, which will connect graduates to a gym in their area when they leave.
“One of the greatest dangers in relapse, physical or emotional is isolation. CrossFit gives people a chance to be a part of a community. It’s a strength of CrossFit above and beyond the simple working out. It’s the community that keeps people coming back and pushing themselves.”
**For more information or to host/attend a fundraiser workout, please visit Operation22MST’s website or check out their Facebook page. All proceeds from their clothing also go to fund veteran treatment.