Any gym can help build muscles, but there is a gym on King Road in Brownstown that helps save lives. More than half of Victory Gym’s 1,500 members are former military personnel and first responders.

“Many of those 750 members have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Char Haener, the Victory Gym’s executive director. “This can lead to issues like substance abuse and memory loss. Many of our members credit the gym with helping to relieve the anger and anxiety associated with PTSD and, in some cases, even saving their lives.”

Victory Gym has helped veterans get in better shape physically and also mentally.
Char Haener

Victory Gym was founded in December of 2015 by Mike Emory, a former Army sniper and himself a victim of PTSD. He had sought treatment at the Army’s Fort Knox, Kentucky base. While he was there, he realized there were many others who suffered from the same disorder. He had withdrawn into himself and was playing video games some 20 hours a day. He envisioned a place where PTSD victims would feel at home and could find relief interacting with others who suffered from the same infliction. “Mike knew the answer was to find a way to engage people both mentally and physically,” Haener says. “That was the birth of Victory Gym.”

Emory leased a Dollar Store on Telegraph south of West Road. Membership grew quickly, and soon the gym outgrew its surroundings. Emory found a new site. The Germania Club on King Road was looking for someone to take over its facility. Victory Gym leases the site from the Club, which continues as a partner.

The gym includes “Heroes Hall,” a banquet room with room for 300 people. The hall is available to rent and includes a kitchen to cater events.

There is a distinctly family feel to Victory Gym from the “Welcome Home” sign next to the entrance to the members themselves. “Once you walk through the door, you are family,” says Elna Durkin one of the gym’s volunteer workers.

“We could not exist without our volunteers,” says Haener, herself a volunteer. “All of the equipment here was donated, and our staff works for free.” The township of Brownstown has helped us with donations,” Haener says, “and the Rotary Clubs of Brownstown/Woodhaven, Trenton and Southgate have provided grants.” She says the grants have helped purchase the gym’s heating and cooling system, something the original facility did not have.

A grant from Rotary International is helping to sponsor a woodshop program. Gym members are making wooden flags for sale; each veteran’s story will be included with the flag he or she made. Another fundraiser is the sale of Victory Gym supplements. “We have a pre-workout supplement and a fat-burner,” Haener says. “All proceeds go to help pay our bills. We’re non-profit 501(c)3 charity.”

Anyone wondering how effective the gym is in helping its former military and first responder members need only talk to them. “If you want proof of how this gym has helped me, just ask my wife,” says Jimmy Adams, who spent 10 months as a dog handler in Afghanistan.

Another veteran, Kyle Wrobleski, says, “Victory Gym is no ordinary gym. As a veteran who lives with PTSD, this gym is a second home to me. It is a place to work out or just hang out with fellow veterans. This gym has helped me in more ways than words can express. It has not only helped me get in better shape physically but also mentally. This is the reason that I help out as much as I can with the gym: so that others may reap the same benefits that I have.”

An Air Force veteran, Tom Hale says, “The adaptation process back to civilian life was overwhelming. I had no friends, except my wife. I could not keep a job long-term. I became depressed, which led to from being in ‘military shape’ to becoming obese, which led to multiple cases of gout in both feet.”

He continues, “At Victory Gym I have found a place where people can relate to me and I relate to them. Victory Gym has given me a reason to smile again. I look forward to going there after work and/or when the kids are in bed. It’s a facility that is more than a gym to me, but my therapy and second home.”

The good news is there are more Victory Gyms planned for the future. “A Victory Gym is set to open in Savannah, Georgia, in the next few months,” Haener says. “Our goal is to have one in every state.”

To learn more about Victory Gym, visit victorygymvhc.org

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