Wodapalooza From a Blind Athlete’s Perspective
Close your eyes and imagine you’re standing just off the competition floor at Wodapalooza waiting for your heat to start.
You can hear the raucous crowd cheering along with the announcer’s play-by-play. You can feel the DJ’s bass and bouncing barbells shake the ground. The heat ends and you’re being led out onto the main floor.
The Miami sun warms your face and your heart starts to race. In front of you is a minefield of equipment staged for your workout, but your biggest concern isn’t the workout, it’s whether or not you’re even facing the right direction. It’s an all-out sensory overload, except you can’t see any of it.
Meet Kym Dekeyrel
That’s what it was like for Wodapalooza’s first completely blind athlete, Kym Dekeyrel.
Dekeyrel, 38, has a genetic disorder called retinitis pigmentosa (RP) that progressively causes loss of vision. She started losing her vision during childhood and eventually could only see “islands of color” in her periphery by the time she graduated from college.
Dekeyrel was a talented classical dancer and choreographer but had to switch professions due to her vision loss. She now runs a chiropractic and manual therapy practice with her husband in San Jose, California.
Bring yourself back into Kym’s shoes. Your first workout on day one has three movements:
- DB Bench Press — check.
- DB Thrusters — check.
- Rope Climbs — uhhh?
It might seem shocking, but Dekeyrel actually loves climbing rope and she says it’s one of her favorites!
- Dekeyrel: “Climbing a rope is liberating. I don’t need any assistance and I don’t have to see it to climb it. It’s simple, just climb the rope!”
Although she does admit there is the added challenge of not knowing when you’ve ascended high enough. She said she climbed about two feet higher each time during the competition than she needed to, but she’s used to the extra effort.
- When asked what’s the most challenging part about competing: “I have to work really hard and also listen even more intently to the judge to know when I’ve completed a rep or when I’m done and can move on.”
At her home affiliate, CrossFit Myo, she has the Concept2 machines set up to verbally announce repetitions or calories, but at the competition, she has to rely on the judge or her guide/loving husband to assist her.
Dekeyrel at Wodapalooza
Anyone who attends Wodapalooza knows that while the outdoor workouts are a blast, it’s the party-like vibe and supportive community that makes the event amazing.
Dekeyrel said in jest that the new friendships she made at the festival were worth all of the “awfulness of the workouts.”
Her favorite connection was with fellow visually impaired athlete Sam Dancer, who has severely limited vision. Dekeyrel said some people were commenting on his famously short booty trunks, all of which she couldn’t see. So she decided to say hi and ask for a picture, not knowing about his vision impairment. It’s a connection she said will have a lasting effect on her life. The two joked about possibly competing side-by-side at next year’s Wodapalooza.
The “Logan Aldridge of Blind Athletes”
Dekeyrel unknowing became a mentor to other visually impaired athletes during the competition. She said a couple of women who are also blind asked for workout advice and mentorship after being told about her performance. Dekeyrel also received numerous messages of support and requests for guidance through social media. When asked how she feels about being a role model for other visually impaired athletes, she said: “I feel like the Logan Aldridge of blind athletes!” She’s referring to the famous single-arm 2019 WheelWOD champion (the adaptive version of the CrossFit Games).
- When asked what she would say to other blind athletes looking to start training or compete: “I never thought anything good would come from being blind. But now I get to compete with everyone else and that means the world to me. Just find something you love to do even if it isn’t CrossFit. Be open and honest that you need help or need a guide. Don’t be shy about asking for help. People are actually really kind and they actually do care. If given the chance, people are awesome!”
Dekeyrel competed in Wodapalooza’s Adaptive Division along with 56 other adaptive athletes — the largest inclusive functional fitness competition. Over the three-day, six workout competition, she kept pace with her fellow athletes in the Women’s Standing Rx division. This was her first Wodaplooza and said she’ll be training to make it back next year.
Dekeyrel wants to help other people who are visually impaired learn to train and compete. You may contact her via her social media (IG: kympossiblexoxo, or email: [email protected])