Adapting Since Birth: Casey Acree Leads Upper Extremity Division, Posts Impressive Rx Performances

April 1, 2021 by
Courtesy of Casey Acree:
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Casey Acree learned at a young age that if he didn’t look out for himself and find ways to adapt movements and skills, he would get left behind. This attitude not only helped him in the 2021 CrossFit Open, where he currently sits atop the Men’s Upper Extremity division leaderboard, but also compete in the Rx division each week. 

The details: The 28 year-old has a congenital defect that caused his arm to stop developing in the womb. As a result, he was born without a left arm below his elbow. 

  • Since he was a child, Acree’s physical disability has never stopped him from pursuing any physical activity he set his mind on. Growing up, he played basketball, football and ran track, and eventually got into bodybuilding-style training and found CrossFit in 2014. Today he owns and coaches at Summit Systems, a gym in Decatur, IL.
  • “It is all I have ever known, so I have had to figure out how to adapt everything since I was young,” Acree said.
  • He also credits his parents. “They were really good about not letting me use my arm as an excuse to not try something. They never gave me special treatment and always told my teachers not to let me get away with things because of my arm. They set the expectation that I can be like everyone else,” he added.

Adaptations in action: CrossFit has challenged Acree to find especially creative solutions to help him be like everyone else. 

  • In 21.3, Acree attached a strap from his left arm to the pull-up bar, which allowed him not just to do toes-to-bar, chest-to-bar pull-ups and bar muscle-ups, but to complete the workout in 11:36, an impressive time even for someone with two arms. 
  • Meanwhile, in 21.1, Acree got through 377 reps. To do the wall walks, he stacked four plates on the ground to hoist his left arm up to the height of his right arm, which enabled him to complete 37 wall walks. 
  • And in 21.4, Acree lifted 245 pounds using a canvas strap that he attached from his arm to the barbell, a strap that was actually designed to connect one scooter to another to make them easier to move.  
  • “I was in my buddy’s garage and he had this Razor scooter strap and I started messing around with it and modified it and I have become pretty attached to it,” said Acree, who’s personal best clean is 325 pounds.
  • “The company actually doesn’t make those straps anymore, so I basically have to go on Ebay every once in a while to find them. I have even found them on Chinese Ebay…I have four or five that I haven’t used yet, so I wait for one to wear down and then will bust out another one,” he added.

Acree on the Adaptive Open in 2021: After waiting for seven years for CrossFit LLC to include an adaptive division in the Open, Acree is “thankful for the opportunity” this year. However, he is hoping this is just the first step in including adaptive athletes at the CrossFit Games in 2022.

  • Although he said the programming was what he would consider “scaled” compared to other adaptive competitions that offer an adaptive division, such as the WheelWOD Games and Wodapalooza, he also said this was a great “first step.”
  • “It has been a long time coming…To have the CrossFit brand involved will make adaptive CrossFit more legitimate and will get more people to compete…I know that right now the intent for CrossFit is to get more people involved. And it was still a great test to see who is the fittest,” he added.
Courtesy of Casey Acree:

The big picture: Regardless of whether adaptive athletes are included in the 2022 Games, or in five years from now, Acree will continue to CrossFit, as it’s about so much more than competition. 

  • “Your mind and your body are the only two things you truly own…and even your body parts can be taken from you. But we all should be trying to optimize what our minds and bodies are capable of doing,” he said. That’s why he does CrossFit.

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