Disability Is No Deterrent: CrossFitters Bridging The Gap For Adaptive Athletes

Mar 10, 2020 by

Michael Sladick won the Masters competition at the Rogue Winter Classic. 

Watching him work out, he looks like any other hard-working competitor.  

The only difference? Michael is deaf and can’t hear the cheers from the crowd, including his friends from CrossFit Spirit in Ohio, who wanted to find a better way of communicating with him.

  • Michael’s wife, Kim told the Morning Chalk Up: “Being deaf, Michael seems to notice things that others don’t see,”
  • “He is encouraging to other members with his “perfect form” and ability to learn new skills with ease…He has a keen sense of pointing out ways to adjust foot or hand placement to improve ability, and enjoys making people laugh and smile.”

The members at CrossFit Spirit in Hinckley, Ohio have taken it upon themselves to enroll in a course in American Sign Language (ASL). The classes are run once a week, after the WOD, for 16 weeks, so members have a better way of communicating with Michael in the box, as opposed to writing everything down.

  • Member Edith Page said: “Michael is not just part of our Crossfit community but he is family to us.”
  • Nancy Earhart said: “Michael’s athleticism defines him at Spirit, not his deafness…now we have a newfound language with him.”
  • Becky Uhler said: “Just the number of people in our community attending the class shows how committed we are to rallying around Michael.”

Michael Sladick told the Morning Chalk Up, it makes him proud to be a part of a community of CrossFitters, who’s efforts to better themselves, goes beyond just fitness.

Michael completing ‘Murph’ with members from CrossFit Spirit
Source: Michael Sladick

Disability is clearly no deterrent in CrossFit.

  • We’ve seen this through the Adaptive Training Academy’s Logan Aldridge and Alec Zirkenbach and stories like Amy Van Dyken’s becoming more of the norm (albeit no less motivational).
  • Wodapalooza has paved the way for CrossFit Sanctionals to officially support inclusive opportunities for adaptive athletes to compete alongside able-bodied athletes.
  • The roster this year included Kym Dekeryrel who became WZA’s first completely blind athlete.

Starting in school: Tanner Graham runs a CrossFit class in Jacksonville, FL, dedicated to young athletes with intellectual and physical disabilities, particularly downs syndrome.

What started out as a four-week summer program a few years ago, quickly became an ongoing passion project for this Adaptive PE teacher:

  • “They deal with a lot of health-related issues, body image issues, and social issues,” Tanner Graham said.
  • “This population can do so much. They can go out and work jobs, live independently, and take care of themselves just like anyone else. I could see young men and women with Downs syndrome and Autism walking into a CrossFit gym or any other style gym and taking a class just like the rest of us on a regular basis.
Source: Tanner Graham

At a collegiate level: Gallaudet University is one of the premier education facilities for deaf students in Washington DC and has a fitness education program to match.


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