TYR Wodapalooza Adaptive Winners Want More for Their CrossFit Divisions
Casey Acree, Camille Vigneault and Alyssa Kobela all left Miami, FL as 2023 TYR Wodapalooza champions earlier this month, and all gave the event a five-star review.
- “The experience was amazing. Meeting other adaptive athletes was great, and the community was great,” said Vigneault, who won the women’s standing upper body division in Miami by 75 points.
- “Wodapalooza is always fun and it’s cool to have an event that is both large…but that also feels intimate. The (CrossFit) Games have that grandeur, but not as much of the community feel,” said Acree, the men’s standing upper body division winner and two-time CrossFit Games champion.
- Kobella, the women’s neuromuscular division winner, added: “Even though we were competing, there was a sense of camaraderie among us all…I had so much fun.”
But despite their great experiences in Miami, there’s still an elephant in the room: Adaptive athlete numbers in CrossFit continue to be low, which will prevent all divisions from being featured at the CrossFit Games, as CrossFit LLC has made it clear that their decision to include all adaptive divisions at the Games comes down to Open registration numbers.
- Most recently, CrossFit said: “In 2024, we will be inviting all adaptive divisions to compete at the CrossFit Games Finals, as long as the divisions have enough participation to allow for a competitive field.
And according to Kobela, Acree and Vigneault, there are a couple of limitations right now that will possibly prevent the sport from growing to where it needs to be.
Gaining the numbers might just have become harder this year, as CrossFit tightened eligibility requirements for adaptive divisions.
In the past, adaptive athletes simply had to show they had one of the 10 eligible impairments via a medical diagnosis, but under the current rules a diagnosis is not enough. Under the new rules, athletes must also show evidence that their condition impairs their ability to do CrossFit movements.
What this means for athletes like Kobela, who has multiple sclerosis (MS), is that she isn’t sure whether or not she will be eligible based on the new requirements, because, according to CrossFit, “I may not be impaired enough to be eligible,” she said.
Kobela added: “On one hand, we want to be as inclusive as possible and accept new people with all types of disability, both observable and invisible; however, CrossFit has updated their policy to require observable impairments throughout the entire competition season. This, in turn, reduces the number of people eligible to be part of competitive CrossFit.”
Kobela has sent in her paperwork and is waiting to hear whether or not she will be eligible this year, but regardless of the decision, the new rules have led to unclear expectations, something Acree said needs to be improved in order to grow the sport.
“Creating a clearer idea of standards and expectations across competitions, and improving qualification standards and divisions breakdowns,” he explained, is an important piece of the puzzle for the adaptive CrossFit to grow and be taken more seriously.
Exposure and Support Limitation
Another limitation right now has to do with both a lack of exposure and financial support for the athletes, Vigneault, Acree and Kobela agree.
“Some exposure would help,” Vigneault said.
“Expanded coverage of the amazing athletes and support from brands that promote inclusivity,” would be a great start, Kobela said. “We shouldn’t just be a side attraction. There are legitimate great athletes that deserve to be showcased.”
Further, finding ways to help new athletes gain access to the sport, as well as help with financial expenses for current athletes, would also go a long way, Acree said.
Kobela added: “There are very few adaptive athletes that have the financial support from (sponsors), so additional opportunities to be included and highlighted as a community would go a long way to help spread the word.”
The Big Picture
Although Vigneault, Acree and Kobela are all appreciative of how far adaptive CrossFit has come, and all three are hoping to return to the Games this summer, their even larger goal is to see their sport grow in numbers, for their own sake as competitive athletes, and for the sake of helping more adaptive athletes live better lives through CrossFit.
“I do always feel challenged. Everyone continues to get better…(but) in adaptive (competitions) the field may not always be as dense as compared to other divisions, so at any given competition some of the top competitors may not be there, so when overall numbers are already low it reduces the overall challenge of the competition,” Acree said.
For Kobela, it’s all about “spreading the word that CrossFit can significantly increase someone’s quality of life,” she said. And when it comes to spreading the word, strength is in numbers.
“There are definitely growing pains, as this will only be the third year that adaptive divisions are included (at the Games), but we must continue to move forward and listen to what the athletes have to say,” she said.