Adaptive Athletes on the First-Ever Adaptive Season

August 5, 2021 by
Photo Credit: Kay Wiese
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2021 was a historic year for adaptive athletes, bringing the first-ever Adaptive Divisions to the Open and CrossFit Games. Throughout the season, athletes in these divisions proved that fitness is attainable at all levels, inspiring the community while setting a standard for years to come.

Remind me: 30 athletes competed in the Adaptive Division at the CrossFit Games, in upper extremity, lower extremity, or neuromuscular subdivisions. 1,089 athletes participated in the Open, across 16 divisions (eight men and eight women): upper extremity, lower extremity, neuromuscular, vision, seated athletes (with hip function), seated athletes (without hip function), short stature, and intellectual.

One key takeaway: As with any first, the newly-created Adaptive Division had some growing pains. Nonetheless, athletes viewed the season as a step in the right direction, one towards greater inclusion. Gratitude was expressed across the board after years of asking for it as adaptive athletes finally took the stage in Madison. 

  • “I’ve competed in other competitions, but this was a different caliber. We weren’t viewed as only adaptive, we were athletes first. It was empowering,” said Shannon Ogar, who took first in the women’s neuromuscular division. 

The programming: After the Open, athletes called for more subdivisions within each Adaptive Division, noting some of the workouts were a “mixed bag.”

  • Casey Acree, the first-place finisher in the upper extremity division, says that the programming at the Games was well-thought-out and “it was not a competition of the ‘least-disabled’ but a competition of the most fit.”

Games programming pushed abilities. Neuromuscular athlete Letchen Du Plessis says after finishing a long run — something she never thought she’d do again, based on the limited use of her hip flexors and left leg — at the Games, she’s removing the word ‘never’ from her vocabulary.

Opening doors for the future: After year one, the adaptive community is looking for one thing: growth. 

  • “Starting is the hardest part, and now the organizers can just continue to refine it in the future,” Acree says.
  •  In the Open, 645 men and 444 women registered for the adaptive division across 16 divisions. Acree looks at this as a place to grow, viewing the adaptive exposure at the Games as a chance to “encourage other adaptive athletes to get involved.”

Understanding that it’s a challenge “financially and organizationally,” many adaptive athletes hope to see more divisions and subdivisions in the future. 

  • “All of our ‘adaptive stories’ (as we called them) are unique as well as our physical limitations and strengths. As the division expands, so should the specificity of the events for each subcategory,” says Valerie Cohen, a lower-extremity athlete.
  • Athletes in the wheelchair and sensory divisions deserve to show their skills and what badass CrossFit athletes they are,” says Eileen Quinn, a female upper extremity athlete. 

The bottom line: There’s almost no question of the impact the first-ever Adaptive Division has had on the CrossFit community for both able-bodied and adaptive athletes. Some athletes even describe the adaptive community as a second family.

  • “I think [the Adaptive Division] helped for people who have never witnessed adaptive CrossFit to understand A. the differences in some of the adaptive divisions B. that we are athletes that train extremely hard to develop our fitness [and] C. OBVIOUSLY we do a good job of inspiring people and getting people to realize that their ‘excuses’ are invalid,” said Acree.

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