August 1, 2022
Moving Mountains with Move to Heal

Branford’s Ethan Hershman is moving mountains with Move to Heal, a non-profit seeking to better the lives of those in recovery from addiction, alcoholism, mental health issues, and life traumas by offering a powerful mix of twice-weekly group exercise and recovery meetings together with nutritional counseling, and mental health counseling.

Moving Mountains with Move to Heal

By Pam Johnson


Branford’s Ethan Hershman is moving mountains with Move to Heal, a non-profit seeking to better the lives of those in recovery from addiction, alcoholism, mental health issues, and life traumas by offering a powerful mix of twice-weekly group exercise and recovery meetings together with nutritional counseling, and mental health counseling.

A Move to Heal group fitness exercise class at Shoreline CrossFit, in Branford, Conn. Dec. 27, 2021.Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

With the commitment of a person in recovery for 28 years, the passion of a dedicated fitness enthusiast, and the drive of a successful entrepreneur, Ethan Hershman is moving mountains with Move to Heal.

Established in 2021, the non-profit seeks to better the lives of those in recovery from addiction, alcoholism, mental health issues, and life traumas by offering a powerful mix of twice-weekly group exercise and recovery meetings together with nutritional counseling, and mental health counseling. All services are offered free to anyone in recovery at a quickly growing number of CrossFit locations.

A Branford resident since 1992, Ethan began offering Move to Heal sessions at his gym, Greenwich CrossFit, in June 2021. Ethan and his wife, Kathy, who have three children, moved to Branford from Bethany.

“This is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my life, except raise my three children. It’s what I was put on this planet to do, and I’ve never felt more passionate about anything,” says Ethan. “I had a great business career in the for-profit sector. I couldn’t wait to get to work every day. But it doesn’t even compare to what I’m doing now.”

In October 2021, Move to Heal expanded to Branford, thanks to a collaboration with David Plumey, owner of Shoreline CrossFit, located at 540 East Main Street. Three weeks ago, another leg of the program began running in an East Longmeadow, Massachusetts gym. In March, Move to Heal will also offer its services through The Lab, a New Haven CrossFit gym. Other Connecticut locations planned this year include those targeted for South Windsor and Westport. In all, plans call for a total of eight locations available by the end of 2022, and then adding another 12 locations next year, says Ethan.

Building on an Idea

Ethan got the idea to start up Move to Heal after experiencing his own success with the types of services it offers and after becoming inspired by other fitness-based recovery programs that are working wonders. Among the inspirational programs is one he saw at Guilford Athletics, started by Clint Zeidenberg and another he visited in Salt Lake City, Utah, Fit 2 Recover, started by Ian Acker.

Ethan counts himself lucky to be a person in active recovery who also had the resources to financially sustain a life-saving regime combining recovery meetings with exercise, good nutrition, and mental health counseling. An entrepreneur for the last 40 years, Ethan’s companies include Canusa Hershman Recycling, Newport CH Trading Int’l, NCH Trading, Evergreen Fibers, and Woodland Power Products. He founded Greenwich CrossFit with business partner and co-owner Colleen Delaney.

Beginning in 1994, Ethan got into distance running, which he kept up for 17 years before becoming a member of Shoreline CrossFit and pursuing that type of workout regime.

During his nearly three decades as a person in active recovery, Ethan says he saw too many people he’d come to know through AA meetings relapse. Sadly, he also knew many who lost their lives to causes including overdoses, accidents under the influence, and suicide.

“And I always wondered, through all these years, ‘Why am I not relapsing? Because it seems to affect pretty much everybody,’” Ethan says. “I started thinking about the fact that, when I got clean and sober, I hadn’t lost everything financially—most people in recovery don’t have the resources I had. I was able to get myself to a doctor who did a bunch of tests and said, ‘You’re borderline malnourished; you need to see a nutritionist; and after what you’ve told me happened the last couple of years, you need to see a therapist as well. And you should start some regular exercise program, that will probably help you.’ I did all of those things. Most people in recovery, they can maybe get to meetings, and if they’re lucky they have a place to stay and food on the table. But they don’t have the resources to get the advice on how to eat properly, and get to a gym and work out, and get therapy as well—and start hanging around with a community that is more healthy-minded than hanging out with people at the bar and drinking soda.”

With all of that in mind, in 2021, Ethan says “the light bulb went off. I own a CrossFit gym in Greenwich; my business partner at that gym knows more about nutrition than pretty much anyone I know, and my daughter, Alexandria, is a licensed therapist in Connecticut.”

In short, he had all of the ingredients needed to start Move to Heal.

“I got the three of us together and said, ‘Listen, I want to offer these services to people for free. I want to start a non-profit and anybody that’s in recovery, not just from drugs or alcohol, but life trauma, mental health issues...I want them to have a place to go where we can have a couple of recovery meetings a week, and some workouts before that, to kind of get their blood moving and their heart rate up and get their endorphins pumping. And once they come in and do these things, and see they’re benefiting from it, they can also take advantage of a full-time gym membership that we’ll give them for free, so that they can be here more often. We’ll give them free nutritional counseling and we’ll offer them free therapy sessions.’”

Since June of 2021, Move to Heal has provided more than 30 full-time free gym memberships to meeting members at the Greenwich facility. There is no age limit for participants and there are no fitness requirements.

“As long as you’re in recovery, you can continue to do this,” he says. “One of the great things is we designed the workouts so if you’ve been on couch for 10 years, you can do this. And if you work out three times a week, we have a modification so it can be a challenge for you as well. So, we invite anybody to come; the only thing we do require is 24 hours of sobriety.”

By offering each specific community services in a safe place, Move to Heal helps to build “a family, if you will, of healthy-minded, like-minded people,” says Ethan. “And it’s there for them to have a place to go that just puts more hurdles between them and their illness, whatever it may be.”

In Greenwich and Branford, Ethan chairs as many of the recovery meetings as possible at each Move to Heal gathering.

“As a recovering alcoholic, I’ve been to AA meetings for 28 years, and I started thinking we were the only ones that had these specific problems, because of our addictions,” he says. “What I found out in the Move to Heal meetings is that people that have mental health issues or life traumas have the same issues we have. And they found out that we, as addicts and alcoholics, have the same issues that they have. And any stigma evaporates immediately. We’re there to help each other, and that’s what we do.”

In addition to offering free memberships at the Greenwich location, Move to Heal provides attendees free full-time gym memberships at every participating gym. Each membership fee is paid to the gym by Move to Heal; which officially became a 501c3 non-profit in 2021. The offering is helping Move to Heal programs quickly mushroom into new locations, where the idea is getting enthusiastic participation from gym owners, says Ethan. In return, each CrossFit gym helps to provide coaching for the workout portion of the weekly gatherings.

“It’s easily scalable. I could [add] two gyms a month, if we had the money,” says Ethan.

Members of Move to Heal’s board of directors are working to aid development; individual donations are also gratefully accepted online at the Move to Heal website

Currently, between the Greenwich and Branford locations, Move to Heal is drawing more than 100 people for weekly meetings/workouts, with about 50 people also taking advantage of nutritional and therapy services offered outside of the meetings, says Ethan.

“We can now honestly say with conviction we have changed lives, and I think we probably have saved a few,” says Ethan. “This has really just taken two parts of my life that were running in parallel, putting them together and offering them to the people that really need it. I think we’re going to have a noticeable effect on the prevention of relapse and the betterment of lives.”

By Pam Johnson

August 1, 2022
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