The Able Games Partners with the Dancer Love Foundation and Brings Together Athletes of All Abilities

April 23, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Able Games
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The CrossFit community has long been well-known for its inclusivity and the program’s adaptability for people of all skill and ability levels. That’s why when Leslie Frie discovered CrossFit in her early 20s, she knew that the increasingly popular fitness regimen would be an incredible opportunity for the special needs gymnastics program her mother ran in Fargo, ND.

  • “It almost seemed like a no-brainer to do the same thing with the functional fitness side to things,” said Frie who had been working with special needs individuals in the gymnastics space since her college years.

Thus, TNT Fitness was born. A program that offered year-round fitness classes for adults with special needs. They also developed a fitness-based competition known as Fargo Mania, which gave those individuals the opportunity to compete and showcase their fitness.

But founder Kim Pladson knew they could do more, and luckily so did her family friend and New York Jets Center, Connor McGovern. A Fargo, ND native, McGovern had worked with the Special Olympics during his years at the University of Missouri and saw the incredible power this program had to enhance people’s lives.

  • “When I was in college, I helped with a powerlifting competition [through the State of Missouri’s Special Olympics],” said McGovern.
  • “And when I watched these athletes, they were all smiling and happy walking up to the bench,” he continued. But as soon as the coach got them on the bench, they were just as locked in and focused as anyone else, crushing lifts. I was blown away,” McGovern concluded.
  • “They are true athletes and they love competition just like everyone else and I wanted to help bring that to people,”

A shared vision of competition: After connecting on their shared vision for bringing competition and athletics to the special needs community through CrossFit, McGovern and Pladson founded “The Able Games.” An inclusive competition that brought together over 150 athletes over the course of two days in their inaugural year.

  • “It was such a natural fit with Connor and we’re super grateful for him and his vision of Able. That every ability deserves to be seen, felt, and heard,” said Frie.
  • “It’s an opportunity that isn’t really out there for everyone,” she added.

The Able Games pairs special needs athletes with neurotypical abilities in a “co-ability” division, where each teammate competes at their respective ability level side by side.

  • This means that one athlete can complete the workouts Rx while their partner competes in a different tier or level.
  • “There is something about the suffering together,” said Frie, adding that when everyone competes in a level that challenges them, it brings those teammates even closer together over the shared bond of suffering.
  • With four levels to compete in, there truly is something for everybody who wants to challenge themselves.

In their third year this year, Able continued to grow and this year partnered former CrossFit Games athletes Sam and Jenn Dancer who run the Dancer Love Foundation. The Dancers have long been supporters and advocates of the special needs community in the fitness arena. This year, they took eight athletes from their Dancer Love program all the way from Quincy, IL to Fargo to watch them put their hard work on display in the Able Games.

  • “It’s beautiful because we’re both struggling,” said Jenn Dancer after returning home from the competition. 
  • Jenn Dancer herself competed along with her longtime friend and member of the Dancer Love Foundation program, James Foster, known better in the CrossFit community as King James.
  • “We don’t want to separate them from any experience. That’s why they have the Able Games where we get to compete alongside them and they compete alongside us,” she added.
  • “It’s a beautiful thing when you get to look down your lane and see 10 other athletes doing the same thing,” Dancer continued.

The power of fitness: The Dancer Love Foundation has long been a place to empower athletes of all abilities and skill levels.

  • The program currently supports twenty special needs athletes and provides them with CrossFit Classes in the Dancer’s affiliate Q-Town CrossFit.
  • “It’s challenging them, not only physically but mentally as well, and teaching them the life skills they’re going to need,” said co-founder Jenn Dancer.
  • “They’re making such amazing strides that some of them might be able to go out and get a job. They’re learning structure and order and skills that translate,” she continued.

This year, the partnership between Able Games and the Dancer Love Foundation continued to allow the Dancer’s athletes to grow and shine within the sport of fitness.

  • “This competition has motivated them to make better decisions,” said Jenn Dancer as she mused on the incredible progress the athletes made in preparation for this event.
  • “The program allows them to train and be consistent and to set goals on a daily basis,” she added.

More than just the athletes, the Dancer Love Foundation’s journey to The Able Games has also had a surprising impact on the parents of these athletes.

  • “Sometimes, I feel like the parents end up making more changes than the athletes,” said Dancer. “You see the parents drinking soda and the kids are drinking water and working out and it,” she continued.
  • Dancer elaborated, describing how in many cases the parents of these children often become inspired to take action for their own health and wellness after seeing what their own kids are capable of.
  • “You have parents who are watching their child compete in this competition and it’s motivating them,” Dancer said.
  • “They’re saying ‘Why am I not working out, why am I not doing this?’ So a lot of parents of our athletes are joining Q-Town Fitness because it’s inspiring them,” she added.

Beyond able: As TNT Fitness and the Dancer Love Foundation look forward to the future, they know that this is only the beginning.

  • “This is an opportunity for that systemic change,” said Frie.
  • “I even think about my own two little girls and having the opportunity to see others of different abilities and know that they have that ability,” she added.
  • “My daughters will grow up knowing everyone has an ability and a spot at the table, whether it’s in play or in the workforce. That opportunity lights me on fire and gives me goosebumps,” Frie concluded.

To learn more about the Able Games or to register to compete or volunteer for next year’s competition, visit their website.

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