Orlando Veterans Affairs Hospital Uses Local CrossFit Community for Therapy

February 4, 2020 by
Photo credit of David Boerst, Orlando VA

Veterans utilizing the Orlando Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System have a unique option in their healthcare treatment plan: CrossFit classes.  

Created in 2017 by recreational therapist Christina Lafex, CTRS, veterans are able to learn proper movement techniques and then transition through specialized adaptive CrossFit classes before joining community CrossFit classes at local Orlando gyms. This healthcare treatment option is part of the Adaptive Sports Program that was developed to provide active involvement in adaptive sports, outdoor recreation, and fitness programs for veterans with disabilities.

“Adaptive CrossFit is one of the few all-inclusive therapeutic modalities that every veteran can participate in, no matter their ability level,” said Lafex, who is also a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer (CF-L2).

Photo credit of David Boerst, Orlando VA

Whole Health System: In 2018, the Veterans Affairs announced a new initiative for veterans that shifts away from a health-care system focused primarily on treating disease to one guided by a personalized health plan that considers the physical, mental, emotional, and social needs of each individual.

  • More than just medication: The VA acknowledges that health care involves more than the physical human body.
  • Community Focused: Veterans are accustomed to a strong community network through military service and the CrossFit community is in a unique position to provide similar support via its focus on inclusion.
  • Lafex: “The sense of community within CrossFit classes replicates, and for some replaces, the military community support that they depended on for many years. I’ve seen first hand the success in transition from active duty to veteran status using CrossFit as the transition tool.”

How it works:

  • CrossFit Affiliates: Local CrossFit gyms like Clermont CrossFit donate their gym space and trainers volunteer their time during non-peak usage hours for the initial technique education and adaptive CrossFit classes.
  • The transition from treatment to lifestyle: Once veterans are fully integrated in the CrossFit community, they have the option to continue taking classes on their own without a formal VA appointment.
  • How to pay for it: CrossFit affiliates often discount memberships for veterans to aid in reducing the barrier to entry. Grants and scholarships are also available to veterans for adaptive sports and fitness through organizations like Challenged Athletes Foundation (Operation Rebound) and Catch A Lift Fund.
Photo credit of David Boerst, Orlando VA

How to replicate this program: Lafex would like to see this program used as a benchmark for success that other health-care programs, and not just the VA, can replicate across the nation.  “A program like adaptive CrossFit can be easily replicated at any box throughout the country,” said Lafex.

  • Education for trainers and therapists is key: Lafex earned her certificate through the former CrossFit Specialty Course: Adaptive Training, now the Adaptive & Inclusive Fitness Training course through Adaptive Training Academy. “This course provides an opportunity for both our veterans and anyone who works or knows anyone with a disability to gain the requisite knowledge about adaptive fitness training methodology, techniques, and safety protocols,” said Lafex.
  • Affiliates should reach out to their local VA: The VA will create a memorandum of agreement that establishes the affiliate as a volunteer provider and sets guidelines for the relationship.  From there, you can start to provide service to the veterans!
  • Mentorship is available: Lafex and Adaptive Training Academy are available to provide assistance in establishing a program in your community.   

There are 18.2 million veterans in the United States, according to the most recent statistics from the US Census. The positive, life-long impact the CrossFit community can make on the health of our veterans can not be understated.

Alec Zirkenbach is co-founder, with Logan Aldridge, of the Adaptive Training Academy, an education-focused organization dedicated to providing adaptive fitness knowledge to trainers, coaches, therapists, and athletes. Adaptive Training Academy strives to make fitness training accessible and inclusive for everyone, regardless of disability, by providing real-world guidance that is practical and universally usable.

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