In July the District of Muskoka gave former drug addicts who were on Ontario Works an unheard of opportunity — they would be provided with everything they needed for two months to regain their health. Local businesses pitched in to help, providing a gym, food, meditation, dental care, yoga and self-defence classes, and guidance on how to eat a healthy diet.
Learning to cook.
Boot camp participants learn how to cook different cuts of meat and how to spice up their food at McMaster's Meat.
The boot camp was featured on CBC and was the focus of a documentary, which will be premiered later this year at a gala.
The Gravenhurst Banner has been following the participants throughout the two months. Here are the stories and some of the intense changes the participants experienced with the combined efforts of the community, a creative program coordinator, the district, and most of all, the support of each other.
Mom cleans up for kids
Katy Austin stopped taking OxyContin after she was arrested for two counts of possession with a purpose while her daughter was in the car with her.
Not wanting to repeat that experience, she began changing her life.
On Friday, her four-year-old daughter joined her to celebrate her graduation from the boot camp for former addicts. With matching yellow toenails, mother and daughter walked to the centre of the CrossFit Muskoka gym, where Austin had experienced so much sweat and agony, to accept the certificate.
Austin struggled to find child care so she could participate in the classes that would help her become a better person for her daughter. Finally, on graduation day, she was able to bring her daughter with her.
“I really enjoyed the CrossFit,” Austin said.
She said she doesn’t notice the changes in herself, but her friends have noticed.
“My friends all say that I’m slimming out and I’m a lot happier,” she said.
Boot camp coordinator Bonnie Euler blinked away tears as she presented Austin with her certificate of completion.
The changes in Katy are remarkable, especially in her dedication, Euler said.
The two-month program may be finished, but Austin is not.
She is longing to go to school to become a personal support worker, but that’s where her past still comes to haunt her. Though the drug charges were dropped, she is waiting for a pardon for a previous domestic assault charge.
Austin’s biggest goals are to continue CrossFit and the self-defence courses to help with stress release.
Difficult journey increases self-confidence in mom
Angela Grand struggled with boot camp from the beginning.
After stepping onto a couple of nails shortly after the program began, she was unable to participate in some of the activities. Despite the difficulties, she showed up, even if she could only cheer on the others.
“It’s actually really rocked my world, doing this. Sometimes not in the greatest way, but I’ve learned so much from it,” she said.
Her difficulties didn’t end with not being able to fully participate. In the middle of boot camp, Grand and her two children moved to the family property where Grand is starting to farm. During the summer she was also working at an organic farm in Severn Bridge.
Stepping onto the nails seemingly threw a wrench into everything she had wanted to do.
“It has not been easy, but it (boot camp) has been the biggest life change ever,” she said.
Grand said it was an incredible journey, and marked the biggest change in her life – increased confidence.
“Years ago I would’ve been too scared to even step into this gym,” she said.
Now she is working toward fulfilling her dream of working an operational farm with a greenhouse. She’s already started with chickens and is looking forward to getting some pigs. She said her seven- and eight-year-old children love to help out.
Right now she is cleaning up and getting everything ready so she can begin farming in the spring.
“I’m hoping to be able to give back to the community, maybe have community gardens and stuff like that,” Grand said.
Boot camp only a beginning
Boot camp is only the beginning of Stacey MacDonald’s journey. After 10 years of bad choices and trying “almost every drug you can think of,” boot camp was a struggle for MacDonald.
“Boot camp has taught me a lot of things; I’m still working through them,” MacDonald said. “I don’t think I’ve made huge changes, but the subtle changes I have made will enable me to make bigger changes down the road.”
One of those changes was an increase in self-confidence.
At the graduation ceremony, Bonnie Euler, coordinator of the program, said MacDonald showed that she won’t give up on herself, even when she slipped up during the program.
“I’m hoping that anyone watching your journey sees that not everything is picture perfect all the time and life happens,” Euler said.
MacDonald previously slipped back into her addictions after another program offered by the District of Muskoka ended and
the peer support was no longer there. MacDonald said she was able to make positive changes during boot camp, partly through the peer support she received.
“This whole group of people, when I didn’t believe in myself, you guys did. I think that’s what kept me going,” she said.
For MacDonald, being able to finish boot camp proved it has helped her take a positive step forward in life.
“I’m just proud to have finished, because I have a hard time finishing things,” MacDonald said.
Now she is looking forward to pursuing a career both as a chef and also as a personal trainer. She is hoping to start school this fall or in January.
Boot camp inspires father-son workout
Paul Hannaford started boot camp depressed. He didn’t want to talk to people, he didn’t want to do anything, and he was out of shape.
Now that he’s been through boot camp, he said he cares about life. Before boot camp, he didn’t.
Getting through two months of intensive lifestyle change wasn’t easy, though.
“It was a love-hate thing,” said Hannaford. “It was torture.”
Tuesdays and Fridays always brought anxiety. Those were the days they worked out for four hours with Dave Marshall at CrossFit Muskoka. One day Hannaford almost gave up, ready to quit and walk out the door, but the rest of the group wouldn’t let him. They circled around him, encouraged him and pushed him on.
Instead of walking out, he finished the workout, and last Friday earned his certificate of completion with the six other boot-campers.
While he was in the program, Hannaford was finally approved for ODSP because of his depression — two years after he applied for it.
Now that he’s on it, he’s going to try to get off of it.
“I asked them to put in a medical review date for July 2014,” he said. “You can be on it forever, but I didn’t want to be.”
Hannaford plans to move back to Cambridge to find a job and be with his children. He’s already found a CrossFit gym there and is hoping his 18-year-old “health-nut” son will join him in his workouts.
“I thought it might be a father-son workout if he wants to join CrossFit,” Hannaford said.
Hannaford feels a tinge of nostalgia as boot camp ends and a few tears are shed by some of the other participants.
“There was only two of us from Huntsville in it. I don’t know how often we’ll see each other,” he said.
Before heading back to Cambridge, Hannaford plans to go through boot camp again, this time as a mentor to another man who also suffers depression.
He wants to be able to help someone else, he said.
Boot camp mom throws out cigarettes for veggies
Tina Godfrey overcame her 19-year drug addiction, but she was adamant she would go to the grave with a cigarette in her mouth.
She started boot camp, and a few weeks later she smoked her last cigarette. Now she’s determined she will never go back.
“I’m so much healthier now, I can breathe, I’m fit,” she said.
One of the things she was required to do while in the boot camp program was to eat a Paleolithic diet — a diet that embraces fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts and seeds. The diet was the biggest struggle for most of the participants, many are not sure if they will continue it now that boot camp is over.
Godfrey said people have been asking her if she plans on dropping the diet now.
“Nope, I’m continuing — I like it,” she said.
Her goals are to continue eating healthy, keep the cigarettes out of her mouth and keep going to CrossFit.
“Even if Ontario Works doesn’t do it, I’m doing it,” she said.
Her resolve is strong now, but there were times throughout boot camp when she wanted to quit.
“I just kept feeling like I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I have to quit,” she said.
Initially she battled her drug addiction to get her children back. Four years later, long after the urges to go back to drugs have disappeared, it was again her kids that kept her going.
“I want to be healthy for them. I want to show them healthy,” she said.
She said her kids like the changes they see in her, though they aren’t big fans of the diet.
When she began the program Godfrey was told she should have been on medication. Two months later, after quitting smoking and following the Paleo diet, her blood pressure is normal.
She loves the new lifestyle, Godfrey said.
Mom tailors boot camp experience for her children
Kelley Gleeson began boot camp only months after moving to the women’s shelter in Bracebridge.
The move was extremely difficult. She didn’t know anyone in the area, and most of her family lives in Miami.
“I’ve met probably the best group of people I could have met,” she said, referring to the boot camp participants she went through so much with in the last two months.
For Gleeson, boot camp was a social venue that also helped her focus on her goals.
“I know where I’m going and what I need to do,” she said.
She’s planning to become a registered nurse again, despite the difficulties of juggling three children between the ages of five and 11 as a single mom. She also wants to continue the mini-crossfit program she’s designed to do at home with her kids.
“They’re so proud of me and they want to meet you one day,” she said to Dave Marshall, owner of CrossFit Muskoka, who coached them through many difficult physical challenges to get their bodies in shape.
Marshall told Gleeson he could see the difference in her focus in her workouts.
“Kelly is like a laser,” Marshall said, “but before, the laser was pointing in 10 different directions at once, so now she’s much more focused from the first time we trained her to the last.”
Gleeson said boot camp grounded her again after her mental and emotional health deteriorated over the past few years.
“It’s just gotten me back up to that higher ground where I know I need to be to be able to be successful again and be able to really contribute back to society again,” she said.
Overweight mom drops pounds and blood pressure
Sabrina Rivers quit doing drugs two years ago. She cleaned up her life, moved into a home where her children had more opportunities, and started going to school for social work. But there was one thing that held her back from the life she wanted.
“The only thing I have stopping me right now,” she said at the beginning of the boot camp program in July, “is my weight and my body. My personality does not reflect my body.”
Two months later she feels better, has more energy, and is starting to look for a new wardrobe.
“I lost 20 pounds!” Rivers said.
She walked over to the white board at CrossFit Muskoka in Huntsville where they had written down how long it took them to complete a specific workout when they first started the program in July. Beside it were the results of the second-last boot camp day.
Rivers dropped more than two and a half minutes from her original nine minutes and 36 seconds. On top of that she is now able to complete exercises she hadn’t been able to do before.
At the graduation ceremony, Bonnie Euler, coordinator of the boot camp, told Rivers when she started the program, her blood pressure was so high she should have been on medication. On graduation day, Rivers’ blood pressure was normal.
Rivers is excited to continue going to the gym to shed more pounds and feel the energy flow through her.
One of the things Rivers found most difficult about the program was focusing on herself. She has always looked out for other people, and her biggest goal was to always have food in the fridge for her children.
Now that boot camp has ended, Rivers will return to her second year of school to learn how to professionally do what she loves — help people.