How this veteran helps others find peace through free gym subscriptions

Matt Saintsing
January 15, 2019 - 12:22 pm

Courtesy of Make a Vet Sweat.

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After his second deployment to Iraq, Justin “Bowflex” Bohannon found himself behind a desk as an Army recruiter in Arizona. He didn’t know how to talk about his experiences downrange, or about his friend, Ben Miller, who went home on deployment leave and never returned—he took his own life. 

The perfect storm was brewing of switching from the fast-paced life of an infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division to an office setting while dealing with his own symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS). 

Photo Courtesy of Make a Vet Sweat

One morning, just after seven, as the sun was shining and the streets appeared empty, Bohannon’s surroundings reminded him of being in Iraq. So much that he felt he was transported back to Iraq in an instant seeing an explosion that, in fact, did not happen. 

“I just went through an episode where I did everything like I was in Iraq, realizing I wasn’t in Iraq,” Bohannon tells Connecting Vets. “And I realized I totalled my freaking government vehicle.” 

That’s when he knew he had to get some help, which led him to box and reigniting his love for physical fitness. 

Since 2015, Bohannon’s non-profit, Make a Vet Sweat has gifted over 250 gym subscriptions to veterans in Texas, in an attempt to keep vets active in the years after leaving the military. 

“There are a lot of struggles in getting out of the military, but one of them is the veteran’s sense of purpose,” he says. “What I’m trying to do is to let veterans know there are a ton of other fitness opportunities out there.”

Fitness can be a remedy for complacency—a “kryptonite of the mind,” he says. 

Photo Courtesy of Make a Vet Sweat

After returning from combat life gets a little slower, but that’s when the real effects of war can sprout as Bohannon saw first hand.

Through Make a Vet Sweat, Texas veterans can apply to receive a free 90-day gym membership of the fitness center of their choice. The idea is clear, if veterans don’t have to worry about paying for a membership, they’ll be more likely to go. 

Studies continually show that intense physical activity may help those living with PTS

Bohannon says there are a wide range of fitness programs his organization is willing to cover: Dance, yoga, boxing, CrossFit and mixed martial arts, to name a few. 

To qualify for a free 3-month gym membership all veterans need is to have served in the military and currently be out. But when Bohannon says any veteran can apply, he means it; they need not be combat veterans nor have an honorable discharge. 

“Just because you didn’t get an honorable discharge, doesn’t mean you don’t need help,” he adds. 

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