Heads Down, Hearts Out
Austin entrepreneurs David Garza, Wes Hurt and Shea Boland share their stories on overcoming addiction.
Photos by Brian Fitzsimmons and Wes Hurt
The epidemic of alcohol and drug addiction hits close to home for entrepreneurs David Garza, Wes Hurt and Shea Boland. All former addicts, these men have overcome the most difficult of circumstances to become successful leaders in the health and fitness industries. Through grace, self-acceptance and a desire to help those around them while potentially changing the world, they’ve all become voices of inspiration within the Austin community.
Learning to Surrender
If you’ve ever taken a class at kickboxing gym Knockout on West Sixth Street or Love Cycling Studio, you’ve most likely met “superman” David Garza. A 13-time Ironman, Garza is known for teaching some of the most physically demanding fitness classes in the city. But when he shared his journey to sobriety on social media last year, he was nervous about what the reaction would be.
Never a heavy drinker during college, he turned to alcohol to cope when he experienced a rough patch in his marriage. He later received a DWI which he calls an “eye-opening experience” and one that let him know he was “spiraling out of control.”
In the spring of 2017, Garza drove himself to Starlite Recovery Center in Center Point, Texas, resolved to finally get sober with some of the best advice he’s ever received etched on his brain.
“You really have to surrender to the experience if you’re going to tackle this and dig deep down into the big questions that you need to answer,” a good friend of Garza’s says.
Garza went in to rehab open-hearted and began listening, exploring and diving into the issues he was trying to cover up with alcohol.
“When I got out I was ashamed [of going to rehab because] I don’t know how people were going to see me,” Garza says. “I thought that I went to rehab because I couldn’t do it myself. One of the craziest topics in there was how many times people went back. I was asked if I was a ‘frequent flyer’ and I’d hear [21 year-olds] say they’d been in there 13 or 14 times.”
Once back in Austin, Garza continued to fight for his sobriety, while dealing with both the shame and guilt of what he’d let himself become. But there was a silver lining. Today, he uses social media to share his story with those who are struggling, to be real and raw and offer advice to as many people as he possibly can.
“I let everyone know I messed up,” Garza says. “[I’m] talking to people about it and trying to go on through life with that is in my back pocket now.”
Living in the Light
Wes Hurt, founder of Hey Cupcake! and Clean Cause, is no stranger to addiction. Struggling with alcoholism since high school, more than two decades now, and opiate addiction, he’s come to terms with the fact that he lives life a little faster than most.
Eleven years ago, his first business, Hey Cupcake!, took off, first unsuccessfully launching on the University of Texas campus and then growing in popularity when Hurt acquired an open lot on South Congress Avenue. At the time, he was a full-on alcoholic, but his addiction steadily grew more menacing. In the last couple years of the business, six years ago, he began popping pills.
“The physical addiction of opiates is unbelievable,” Hurt says. “It feels like you don’t even have a choice at all because your body is screaming. I went from popping one or two pills to 30 to 35 Vicodin a day over a two-year period of time.”
After years of struggling to get sober, Hurt ended up living in a warehouse with a homeless man, once again facing the question he’d been asking since childhood, “What’s my purpose?”
Now with Clean Cause, a water and energy drink company that gives 50 percent of its profits back to drug and alcohol recovery efforts and employs former addicts, he is able to fulfill his purpose as an entrepreneur with a cause that is bigger than himself. He’s fighting fire with fire, as he likes to say, and going up against energy drink giants like Red Bull with a mission that everyone can believe in.
“I’d love to say it just takes heart and that if the whole world sang ‘Kumbaya’ we’d all be ok, but it’s going to take hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars,” Hurt says about lessening the alcohol and opiate epidemic. “We got good hearts and we want to kill it, but at the end of the day, we are going to make money to fuel the resources and keep up with the pace of addiction.”
For Hurt, his path to sobriety has had its ups and downs, but it’s passion that ultimately has led him to “live hard in the light.”
“We believed in second chances and third and fourth chances,” he says. “There’s no limit. Yes, does the bar go higher every time? Yes, but there’s so much opportunity for us to show grace and compassion to people.”
It’s All About Accountability
Shea Boland, men’s wellness coach, personal trainer, Lululemon ambassador and founder of ATX Sprint Squad, has been sober for just over six years now. Born and raised in Montana, he lived in Los Angeles before making his way out to Austin to enter rehab.
“I hit rock bottom with opiates in L.A. and my parents gave me one last shot,” he says. “They were either coming down there to cut ties with me or get me help. Throughout all those low spots and me getting high and stealing and not being a great person, I knew in my heart I wanted help, but I was so afraid of the unknown.”
Boland entered a 90-day life-saving program in Westlake, Texas, where he lived with 10 to 15 men. He did CrossFit five days a week, participated in therapy and came to understand the man he wanted to become. But, above all, he remembers how every single person in the home held one another accountable.
“If you don’t know how to make your bed how do you think you’re going to stay sober?” Boland says.
After leaving treatment, he began working at Elizabeth Street Cafe, and in April 2017 he launched a new career in the fitness industry.
“After a little trial and error, personal training came onto my radar and it seemed really special to me at the time,” Boland says. “I Iooked at the little 20-year-old Gold’s Gym trainers and thought, ‘Wow that looks awesome. He’s wearing athletic gear and it seems like he’s really helping someone.’”
In the early months of his new business, things just seemed to fall into place. Some of his old customers from Elizabeth Street began requesting his services, he met with gym owners and steadily had a solid group of private training clients.
Today, Boland’s career has further developed and he is primarily focused on men’s wellness coaching.
“The aesthetic issues people come to see me about are just scratching the surface,” Boland says. “I can help people on a deeper level and that may mean going back to school for a psychotherapy degree or getting certified in a more body-centered therapy or meditation.”
While fitness is one aspect of his new wellness program, his goal is to help men get more emotionally in tune and build up their intuition and confidence.
“I don’t want to have it boxed up as a going-to-save-your-life program...Ultimately what it looks like is helping people come back home to themselves.”