Wodapalooza Leads the Way for Inclusive Competitions
Wodapalooza (WZA) was the first major functional fitness competition, and the only CrossFit Sanctional, to officially support an inclusive opportunity for adaptive athletes to compete alongside able-bodied athletes. While there is still no official “adaptive” CrossFit division in the CrossFit Open or Games, competitions like WZA are providing an arena and an opportunity for adaptive athletes to show their talents.
Adaptive athletes from all over the world come to Miami for an opportunity to share the competition stage at WZA. Four years ago there were 20 adaptive athletes competing at WZA, and most were from the United States. But since then, the awareness of adaptive fitness and competition has grown exponentially. This year, there are 60 adaptive athletes competing, representing 14 different countries.
WZA is more than just a fitness competition. It touts itself as a “Fitness Festival” that is community-centered, and that vibe is definitely felt throughout the 4-day event. WZA offers all athletes, but especially those in the adaptive division, a chance to meet and connect with other like-minded people.
- Steven Walker, who volunteered in 2018 and now will be returning to compete in the adaptive division for the second year, said “Wodapalooza is the place I fell in love with CrossFit! And then watching the other adaptive athletes compete is when I found my place in the world.” The camaraderie and support in the adaptive community is second to none and WZA has been a host for this inclusive setting since 2014.
It all started in 2014 when Stephanie Hammerman, who is an adaptive athlete, asked WZA co-founder Guido Trinidad if she could compete alongside the other athletes. Hammerman was born with cerebral palsy that affects her lower-body muscle function and inhibits her ability to complete workouts designed for able-bodied athletes. WZA agreed and allowed Hammerman to compete, using her own adaptations. That led to her proposing to add a formal, dedicated adaptive division the following year in 2015.
- Hammerman: “I competed in my first competition in 2014. After that amazing experience, it was very obvious that the adaptive presence was needed and was missing from most competitions.”
Up until 2015, there was no adaptive division at WZA, or any other major fitness competition, and athletes like Hammerman had no way of participating.
Then in 2016, after getting the green light to create an adaptive division, Hammerman was diagnosed with cancer and was not able to travel to Miami from her home in North Carolina. She turned to her friend and WheelWOD director, Chris Stoutenburg to take over the on-the-ground operations. Stoutenburg was already running an adaptive version of the CrossFit Open and at the time had the most experience with adapting able-bodied workouts for people with impairments.
Stoutenburg took over in 2016 and continues to run the adaptive division with the staff from Adaptive Training Academy (Kevin Ogar, Logan Aldridge, and Alec Zirkenbach). The task of leading the adaptive division includes the challenge of adapting all of the able-bodied competition workouts and designing the equipment floor plan with all of the unique adjustments for various abilities.
The competition is real: Don’t be fooled by the close-knit camaraderie between the athletes in the adaptive division. There are two main subdivisions for adaptive athletes: Standing and Seated. Each is categorized by how the athletes will complete their workout tasks — in either a standing form or seated position. Then each has an Rx and a scaled subset, making four total divisions. In the end, there are 12 podium spots up for grabs.
- Jedidiah Snelson, from Boise, Idaho, who has podiumed multiple times, says that WZA allows him to express his hard work. “Competing is a part of my makeup. CrossFit is a deep passion of mine, and Wodapalooza has given me an outlet for that competitiveness against some of the best in the world. I’m very grateful”
- Paula Chlik, from Chicago, who competes in the Standing Rx division, said “Having the opportunity to compete means so much to me because I am consistently challenged to do things I never thought I would be able to do. Wodapalooza gives [adaptive athletes] a platform to be judged as an athlete. They don’t take it easy on you because you are adaptive. I’m truly seen as an athlete with them and that drives me to never stop pushing my limits to see what I’m capable of!”
- Tresa Honaker, Artistic Director, AirAligned Aerial Dance Group: “As a professional dancer, becoming paralyzed ended a big part of my life. Discovering Competitive Crossfit and working towards competing at Wodapalooza has given me a reason to live this new life after injury. WZA has given me something to work towards. Truly giving me a reason again to Celebrate Fitness, Celebrate Community, Celebrate Life.”
WZA adaptive numbers over the years:
- 2015: 8 athletes (picked from a lottery of applicants)
- 2016: 24 athletes (picked from a lottery of applicants)
- 2017: 36 athletes (through online qualifiers)
- 2018: 48 athletes (through online qualifiers)
- 2019: 60 athletes (through online qualifiers)
- 2020: 60 athletes (through online qualifiers)
*The total number of adaptive athletes permitted at WZA is limited by stage space and time, and staffing support.
Even big-name gyms like Invictus are supporting adaptive athletes. CrossFit Invictus, who has been represented in the last 10 CrossFit Games, is sending its first adaptive athlete to WZA. Austin Roth will be representing with a green “Athlete” shirt after qualifying for WZA and also winning his division in the 2019 WheelWOD Open — the adaptive version of the CrossFit Open.
WZA kicks off this Thursday and continues through the weekend.
- To follow the athletes in the adaptive division, tune in to WZA on the FloSports Livestream (subscription required) or follow the newly created media team at All Things Adaptive (Instagram and Facebook) for exclusive updates, daily recaps, and athlete stories.