Quadriplegic CrossFit Athlete Rick Fox Becomes Coach and Competitor

January 8, 2021 by
Credit: Courtesy of Wayfarer CrossFit
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In July of 2008, Rick Fox’s world changed: he dove into a swimming pool, broke the C7 vertebrae in his neck, and learned he would never walk again. 

One big thing: Fox, a CrossFit level one coach, is one of the first quadriplegic athletes in the sport.

But it wasn’t until 2017 – nine years after his injury – that Fox started his new journey with fitness.

His story: “It was hard for me to move, hard for me to transfer, Fox says of March of 2017, when he began to change his eating and fitness habits. “I would do an eight hour day at work and then I was taking a nap in my car for 30 minutes before I even got home.”

Fox started out by tracking his nutrition through MyFitnessPal, and a few months later, began exploring his options outside of solo workouts. After reaching out to a handful of CrossFit boxes, Fox settled on Wayfarer Crossfit in Irwin, PA.

  • Nate at Wayfarer said, ‘Hey, I’ve never worked with someone in your position but am always open to learning. Why don’t you come in and we’ll try it out?’” Fox says.

In the beginning Fox says it was very much “trial and error” in the one-on-one sessions between he and Nate Kozma, owner of the affiliate.

  • “The first day, he had me out of my wheelchair doing push-ups on the ground,” Fox says. “I didn’t voluntarily get on the ground.”

But with help from WheelWod and YouTube in the early days and, down the road, a seminar the duo attended with the leading names in adaptive CrossFit including Logan Aldridge, Alec Zirkenbach and Kevin Ogar, they learned together. 

Fox gives the example of rope climbs:

  • “Rope climbs, in general, are difficult for everyone. Rope climbs, when you’re in my position with no grip, is impossible. My rope climb in a competition is I lay on the ground and pull myself to seated.”
  • “For us,” he continues, speaking to something they learned from YouTube, “If you take a rope and throw over top of a rig and attach a kettlebell and use it as a pulley, you’re still doing movement, you’re just modifying it and it’s working, it still gives same stimulus.”

Fox earned his CrossFit L1 certification in early 2020 and is now coaching at Wayfarer CrossFit. 

Worth noting: Fox is the only adaptive CrossFit athlete – that he knows of – in his area.

  • “I am not treated any differently in my gym,” he says. “I just treat it as ‘Hey, I’m just here to workout, and get as much enjoyment as watching everyone push themselves and get PRs and all that stuff.”
  • “My gym is very arms open, welcoming for anyone coming in, disability no disability, overweight, in perfect shape – come, workout, and join our community, and that’s what we care about,” he adds. “Most people are very nice and very outgoing within CrossFit, period.”

Competing: Fox’s first attempt to qualify for Wodapalooza was in 2018. Though he says the qualifiers made him realize he wasn’t in as good of shape as he thought, Fox explains that there was only one wheelchair division that first year. 

  • “All athletes, no matter what your disability was, if you did all of your stuff in a wheelchair, that was your division,” he explains.
  • “I was going up against paraplegics, who had full trunk control, amputees –  the field wasn’t leveled out yet,” Fox says. “Trying to have me do the same movements and weights that these guys were doing, it was just not feasible.”

In 2019, Fox qualified for the scaled division of Wodapalooza. At the competition, Fox says those running the adaptive athlete division were watching what he was doing; they hadn’t encountered people in Fox’s condition, he explains, and didn’t know what movements were impossible for him.

  • “They would actually make some adjustments on the fly during workouts,” Fox says. 
  • “They’re sitting there going, ‘Ok, this isn’t the stimulus that we want. We don’t want him to spend all day on this just because his grip’s not there, we’re trying to tax his lifting,’” Fox adds. 

In 2020 Fox took third in the scaled division at Wodapalooza, but even with different levels within the wheelchair division, he says a few workouts still had to be adjusted. 

Fox says he has one advantage: a second wheelchair.

  • It’s easy, with weight overhead, to flip a wheelchair backwards. Often, athletes in wheelchairs have spotters or helpers during class, to make sure they don’t flip. 
  • Fox works full-time as an engineer, and says he never liked the idea of needing a coach for the duration of class. So, he modified his chair, making an anti-tip wheelie bar heavy-duty with bigger wheels “like those on roller-skates,” and bolting the chair so it’s fully-rigid. Then, it could handle the weight of him rocking into it with a heavy barbell, the bolts giving more support during lifts. 

Today:  Instead of preparing for Wodapalooza (because of his injury, Fox has no temperature regulation for his body – with Wodapalooza now in May he doesn’t want to “put himself in a bad place”), Fox is gearing up for the 2021 Adaptive CrossFit Open. His goal is to make it to the games in 2022. 

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