Working out for recovery: Local gym promotes exercise for addiction, mental illness

MADISON, Wis. - The gym is the perfect place to build muscle, strength, and for some, a new life.

"It's the perfect natural way for anybody trying to get better,” said Katie Kiss, who oversees a Badger Fitness location in Madison.

Transforming your physique takes repetition and lots of support. Kiss will tell you changing your life isn't so different.

“I was arrested Sept. 11, 2013, on burglary charges,” she said.

Addicted to heroin, Kiss felt stuck.

"I wanted to have a baby. I wanted to have a family,” she said. “I wanted a normal life."

Working out got her moving again. Three years ago when she walked into Badger Fitness, staff and clients helped her find her footing.

"I loved the people and the environment,” she said. "It's all about changing the paths in your brain to create new behaviors."

She did the heavy lifting to build herself back up.

"You don't go for your personal record squat, not make it, and give up,” she said. “You go back and you practice and practice and practice until you get that squat. It’s the same with recovery. Whatever it takes, you're gonna fall -- trust me, it's gonna happen -- but your recovery is how you come up from that fall. This will help you come up with strength, not just mentally but physically."

Now she helps a large portion of her clients fight back against mental illness and addiction.

"At least 20 to 30 percent,” she said. “Whether it's gambling, whether it's drugs, alcohol."

"Ten years ago, I thought I was gonna be, excuse my language, a worthless junkie,” said Jessie Wood, Katie’s best friend whom she met in recovery.

Formerly a client, Wood worked her way up to instructor at Badger Fitness.

"It's a second home,” she said “Everyone builds you up and just encourages you and everyone's always there for you. I feel awesome. I'm ready to take on the world."

"I get the best highs, the best feelings than I ever did while I used. Than I ever did partying,” Kiss said. “This is fun."

At the gym, Kiss has built muscle, sobriety, and also, a family.

"I still have moments where I have to like pinch myself,” she said.

Her fiancé runs the other Badger Fitness location in Madison, and they have a nearly 18-month-old daughter.

"I'm finally living the life I never thought I'd have,” Kiss said, and she’s determined to push others through their struggles, as well.

"Please let me help you, because you don’t have to be like that. It doesn't have to be like that,” she said.

Kiss hopes to expand her business to help more people in the justice system into recovery.

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