Legion post doubles as fitness center

You won’t find stale beer, pretzels or stories at American Legion Post 2020 in Arlington Heights, Ill. Instead, the new post features state-of-the-art fitness equipment, healthy members and a vibrant atmosphere.

Post 2020 doubles as Three 60 Fit, a fitness center where members flock to do more than get healthy. It’s a safe place where they experience friendship and fellowship.

It’s the brain child of Post 2020 Commander Christian Koshaba and Vice Commander Matthew Monson.

Koshaba joined the Air Force in 2006. During his service, he became a physical training leader and developed athletic programs on the base. After he transitioned out in 2010, he suffered a severe hand injury in New Zealand while vacationing with his brother. “A surgeon told me that I would never use this hand again. It rocked me to my core because before the military, I was an art major.”

As he underwent rehabilitation for his hand at a VA clinic, Koshaba knew his injury paled in comparison with the physical and emotional wounds some of his comrades sustained. “It just created a fire within me, seeing what these men and women truly went through,” he said. ”They are heroes and I was an idiot who got into an accident while on a trip.”

His determination led to his recovery, which was around 70 percent six months after the accident. His hand functions at about 90 to 95 percent now, plenty to allow him to not only exercise but to lead fitness classes at the post.

Koshaba never deployed but his injury and recovery motivated him to give back to his fellow veterans. “I needed to do something for my brothers and sisters in arms.”

That inspiration fueled innovation when he met Monson at a fitness center.

Monson joined another Legion post soon after leaving the Marine Corps in 2007. “I made about 50 new best friends,” he recalled. “It plugged me into the community. It meant a lot because I am not from here.”

While Monson was fortunate to find camaraderie at the Legion post and continue his schooling to become a chiropractor, he was well aware of comrades who became statistics. “It really weighed heavy on me. It kept me up at night, wishing that I could have done more.”

One sleepless night Monson had a vision. “What if we gave vets a different alternative to The American Legion model? What The American Legion stands for and has done over the last 100 years for veterans has been amazing. But what can we do to update that for younger veterans?”

Instead of a late-night bar scene, Monson wanted to develop something where veterans could gather, get healthy and help each other in the morning.

Monson and Koshaba developed a bond while working out. They exercised. They shared stories about their service. They brainstormed about how to help other vets.

Their vision: an American Legion post that focuses on fitness and families.

“There have been several guys who came to us when they were having those dark thoughts and they were going down that path to hurt themselves,” Monson said. “It’s a downward spiral. We’ve already been able to pick a few of these guys up. It’s been a really rewarding thing. We are making a difference and that gives us a lot of energy.”

One of those veterans is Brandon Landrum, who Koshaba met through Monson. Landrum, an Army veteran, moved from Kentucky to the Chicago area in early January. He needed structure and brotherhood.

“Once I got in here, Christian welcomed me with open arms — all the other people here also welcomed me with open arms,” said Landrum, who quickly joined Post 2020. “When I moved up here, I didn’t have many friends or any connections here. Meeting Christian and being part of the Legion has opened the door to all of these friends now. I think that is super important for a veteran moving from one state to another, or even one county to another.”

Landrum says the post’s fitness center was instrumental in helping him overcome his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“I could have been that person myself,” he said. “I have seen it myself — veterans getting lost in the cracks. Coming here from a new place I am welcomed with open arms and these guys are holding me up and being with me through and through. It’s very important.”

Koshaba has helped Landrum not only in a physical sense but in an emotional one.

“Christian has taught me that PTSD is something that can hold me down but it is also something that can build me up,” Landrum explained. “Having these guys around me, I feel safe. I feel safer within myself. I feel safer within my faith. And I also just feel safer being in a new place. This place feels like home to me now.”

But Three 60 Fit offers more than just group workouts that are somewhat similar to Crossfit.

“The fitness end can knock down all the stress and anxiety,” Koshaba said. “What I noticed is that a lot of these veterans were missing the spiritual aspect they had in the military. We want to incorporate mind, body, spirit.”

And thus Bibles and Biceps was born. It’s a 45-minute workout to reduce stress levels followed by a 45-minute Bible study, which includes reading scripture and time for prayer.

In fact, Landrum was introduced to the post through its weekly Bibles and Biceps class. Koshaba and Landrum met again the next day.

“We’re big guys and we were crying,” the post commander said. “Guys don’t normally do that. But the pain is there. As men, especially veterans, we try to hold onto it, like a badge. Once I told Brandon my story the floodgates opened up. He let it all out and I learned how much we had in common. Not just our military background, but with our families. Being open for these guys is a big thing and I think Brandon respected that.”

There’s no doubt that family is important to Koshaba, a father of two young girls. His arms are adorned with tattoos of wolves, representing family.

“We try to take what a Legion post should be doing and that is taking care of veterans,” Koshaba explained. “Through the Legion these families are going to want to be involved, too. We’re not just targeting the individuals because there is only so much I can do one-on-one. Once they go home, they are with their families. They need that support structure as well.”

Don Horn, the immediate past 9th District commander in the American Legion Department of Illinois, helped Koshaba and others through the process of creating the post. On Feb. 26, Horn presented post members with their formal charter.

“It’s a very unique post,” said Horn, a medical officer for the department and member of Post 974 in Franklin Park. “Different posts have different niches to engage with their communities. So when they go to represent themselves as veterans in the community or tackle the concept of recruiting new members, it’s a niche they can fall back on. This one is very involved with fitness and they are trying to get involved with veterans affairs.”

Horn sees this as a scalable idea. “We’re trying to figure out what the draw is for younger veterans when they come back. Fitness is one common goal. Community service is another. It’s a matter of trying to get them in and keep them involved with the activities they are interested in.”

When Horn presented Koshaba and Monson the charter, the post commander said, “This is big; it’s been a longtime coming.”

Post 2020 members, however, are forging plans to keep moving forward. Koshaba wants to continue to increase the number and types of classes, and plans to move in August to a new facility where the space will double to 6,000 square feet.

“I don’t think we’ve achieved anything yet,” Koshaba said. “It’s only just begun. Getting the charter was just buckling on my seatbelt, getting ready for the ride.”