CrossFit Games

BARx CrossFit Adaptive Program Prepares Teens for the Open

March 22, 2021 by
Photo credit: Wodapalooza
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“Four-time Wodapalooza Champion” is an impressive title on its own, but even more so it belongs to Josie Portell, who is just 14 years old. 

Since she joined BARx CrossFit with her dad in 2016, Portell has not only gotten years of experience traveling for competition under her belt before starting high school but has also acted as the catalyst that started the BARx Adaptive program, which now provides accessible, inclusive workouts for adaptive athletes in the St. Louis area. 

The details: After Portell blew spectators, judges, and competitors away at a local comp for teens in 2018, her father, Robert Portell, worked hand-in-hand with BARx coaches Ed Lampitt and Monica Lohnes to create BARx Adaptive, a 501(c)3 organization. The program runs in conjunction with regular CrossFit classes at the gym, with extra volunteers on stand-by to help class run smoothly and get athletes the workout and community they came for, while also striving to keep athletes as independent and autonomous as possible. 

  • “Where there’s a will, there’s a way, is what we’ve learned,” Robert Portell said about developing the program. Portell noted that equipment accessibility was one issue most people wouldn’t consider. Between stand-up barbell racks, potholes in the parking lot, or stacked weights, there were some kinks to smooth out. 
  • Monica Lohnes, coach: “I love getting to know the athletes and celebrating their successes, just like any coach would celebrate anyone’s success. And, to see them push themselves in a new way and have fun, I love it. It’s also cool to see the new adaptations we come up with, it’s a team effort through the learning process.”
  • “Seeing their accomplishments, seeing them progress, going from not being able to lift a six-pound bar to using a 15lb bar with plates. And you know, maybe (an athlete) can’t do something, but okay, we can do this instead. And their joy is what feeds me,” volunteer Molly McDaniel said. McDaniel has been with the program since the beginning and brought one of the founding members to the class, a fellow police officer that had been paralyzed on duty. 

The next generation: BARx Adaptive boasts athletes of all ages, but some of their most impressive talent comes in small packages. Joining the ranks with Josie, a few other teens are participating in the Open this year. 

  • Mackinley Reed: At 17 years old, Reed found his way to BARx through his wheelchair basketball league that the Portells are involved in. Now, he plans to attend college and play basketball and keep up CrossFit as a training practice. In 2020, Reed took first place in the Wodapalooza Seated Scaled division, giving BARx two athletes on top of the podium that year. 
  • 15-year-old Selah Harris joined the program just before the pandemic struck last spring. Now that she’s back in the gym, Harris is excelling and reports finding a tight-knit, loving community at the gym. Harris is heavily involved in theater and track, and her coaches gush about how much she has grown and how much confidence she has gained. 
Photo credit: Robert Portell

Inclusion in the Open, “It’s about time!”: For Portell and Reed, who have experience in other competitions, along with Harris who comes into this Open season with less knowledge about the background, this season promises excitement. 

  • Reed: “I’m really excited!  It’ll be a test run, yes, and we’re okay with that! We’re here to help improve this area of CrossFit, which in my opinion, is very underrepresented. It’s cool to go to (competitions) to see the amount of adaptive athletes competing and just doing the best at what they’re doing.”
  • Harris: “I’m going to be honest, I’m a very “come on, let’s get it going” person. When I heard that adaptive athletes are being included, I know in my mind I should be like “wow that’s amazing!” but I was really like “uhh, it’s about time!” Being someone in a wheelchair, I have an approach of “okay, I’m gonna have to sit in the background for a few years before someone realizes we’re capable.” So I’m very excited we’re starting to be recognized, included.”

Long-lasting success: All three teens, along with their coaches, see the benefits of the program as clear as day. With the inclusion of adaptive athletes in the Open, the floodgates are opening, and the success stories of these BARx athletes will be similar to that of new CrossFitters around the world. 

  • Harris: “I don’t have a problem learning how to adapt to things around me, but having other people who, first of all, care enough to have already done it and translated it into something I can do (is amazing). I also have other people in the room I can relate to, and there’s a great comradery.”
  • Reed: “I can be me, and don’t have to compare myself to others, and can build not just self confidence but basic overall improvement of myself. Being more comfortable with who I am, I can definitely say CrossFit (has helped me become who I am)
  • Harris:  “(The coaches)  don’t treat us like children, we know what we’re doing. They were skeptical at the beginning, but now they know. They don’t question if we can do something. We know our bodies, and what we can do, they don’t question us.”

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