Free gym gives veterans a place to work out and work through stress

WACO, Texas (KWTX) An organization started by "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle and his brother has done something special for Central Texas veterans.

They worked with the Veterans One Stop to create a gym at the Waco organization.

Former service members can go for free to work out and work through the stress created by combat.

Whitney veteran Christopher Wolff comes to the Veterans One Stop when he's in town to get in a good sweat.

But for the 11 year Air Force veteran who served three tours in Iraq and three in Afghanistan, it's so much more than that.

"It allows you to center yourself, it allows you to understand that everything else around the world is going on, you can't stop that. But the one thing you can do is focus on physical training. Physical training takes you out of your current element," Wolff said.

You'll notice this gym isn't full of wall to wall mirrors, just a few here and there.

It's not about vanity.

Wolff is the first to tell you it's about survival.

"It's that whole understanding that you can help control the anger that's going on by maybe throwing an extra 20, 30 pounds up, forcing that energy that you wold use to be angry, forcing it out on a weight, forcing it out on one more push," he said.

It wasn't enemy fire that put him in a wheelchair.

It was condition called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis.

"I woke up paralyzed from the neck down," Wolff explained.

And it happened as soon as he returned home from overseas taking him from one fight to another one entirely.

He said, "I was going to be paralyzed from the neck down, never able to breath, eat, walk, or do anything on my own again."

That was in 2008.

But he was able to fight back regaining the ability to stand or walk for short periods through therapy and exercise.

"I know I have an injury, I know I have these things but when I'm doing physical training, it reminds me that I can be an individual, and I can do things within my injury and I can push myself, seeing other people push themselves too," he told us.

Wolff now works for Guardian for Heroes as the director for Veterans Services.

That's the organization that created the gym at the One Stop.

"We provide gym memberships, we provide in-home equipment, and we install gyms in wonderful places like the Veterans One Stop," said executive director Jim Finkenkeller.

Finkenkeller says before Chris Kyle's death Kyle saw a need.

"He went around to his buddies and said hey let's go work out, let's go to the gym, let's go duck hunting, let's go to the gun range, let's do those things where we can bond together like we did in the military, and once he started doing that, he learned he wanted to reach out to all those veterans and help all of them," Finkenkeller said.

So Kyle and his brother created this group.

"What he said is we need to serve those who served us, and that's really the motto for Guardian for Heroes," Finkenkeller said.

The group goes across the country working on gyms like this with organizations like the One Veterans Stop.

Finkenkeller said, "this is such a welcoming environment, that anyone who needs anything should come here, and they'll be welcomed with open arms."

And the One Stop thinks of everything.

There's even a shower so veterans can clean up and head out for the day.

Along with the gym you'll also find a game room and a video game and media room at the One Stop: activities to provide veterans the camaraderie and support they need, to help deal with the external, and internal challenges they face.

Finkenkeller has seen the payoff.

"To be able to say hey, not only have I changed the way I feel, but it's changed my relationship with my family," he said, "if we can help secure those relationships, that to me is, it's very heartwarming."