How All Level CrossFit and the Chasing Hazel Foundation Promote Connection and Comradery Through CrossFit
All Level CrossFit in Windsor, Ontario, Canada has been operating as an affiliate for approximately ten years.
But in July of 2018, owner John Mack made a change to the classes, offerings and community that drastically impacted who All Level was as a gym, what they stood for, thus defining their core values moving forward.
Some background: At the time, Steph Seguin’s daughter, Hazel, who has Downs Syndrome was five years old. Steph saw the writing on the wall that as Hazel became older, she would find herself with fewer opportunities for community and growth.
As adolescents with Downs Syndrome approach teenage years, the opportunities dwindle. They are able to remain in public school until age 21, but beyond that, there aren’t many activities and programs available, let alone many that are inclusive.
Inspired by her two daughters and with the ultimate goal of inclusion, Steph formed the Chasing Hazel Foundation, a registered charity that advocates for people with Downs Syndrome of all ages. They organize, assist and lead community programs that promote inclusivity.
- Chasing Hazel Foundation: “We advocate for inclusion on all levels and compassion as a means to strengthen our community as a whole. We have a vision for the future to be a more accepting place where potential is highlighted, differences are celebrated and the uniqueness of each individual person is respected and appreciated.”
With the ethos of CrossFit in mind, (the ultimate community builder with universal scalability), Seguin and Mack combined forces to create fully inclusive classes at All Level CrossFit, incorporating typical athletes alongside adaptive athletes.
Seguin and Mack began a pilot program, with four teenage athletes, all with intellectual disabilities. This first step was not inclusive, as the athletes were coached on their own, separated from the group classes, but it gave Sequin and Mack motivation to continue to grow the program and push it to what they hoped it would become.
CrossFit’s model was already perfect: everything was modifiable, adaptable, scaleable. What Steph and John wanted was an inclusive program, where everyone is working at their own levels.
- “It was a sticking point–how can we maintain the authenticity of inclusion,” said Seguin.
The big picture: What Mack and Seguin hoped for and dreamed, is what All Levels has become today. There are multiple “inclusive classes” a week that serve as a stepping stone, have extra accommodations and volunteers to make sure all the people in the class have what they need to be successful, including typical members.
After this “phase in” process, after adaptive athletes are given a chance to become comfortable in the new environment, they are then given the option to join the group classes.
- “Those inclusive classes are stacked with typical members and adaptive athletes and we all work out together,” said Mack.
- All Level CrossFit: “The All Level Adaptive Athlete class is a place where everyone belongs. It models inclusion, acceptance, and partnership for people of ALL abilities. Using CrossFit we focus on promoting physical and mental fitness, as well as the integration of all our athletes.”
The athletes: A well-known member of the gym is Julia Lane, 2023 CrossFit Games champ and bronze metal finisher in 2022 in the Intellectual Division. Other athletes training hard to perfect their skills and become more competitive in the sport are Adam Fase, who has been working on big sets of skipping, Max Vigneaux who is racking up the barbell PRs, Iesha Ellwood, who has a killer bench press, Claire Hayes, who has been strengthening her deadlift and brothers Conner, Aiden and Cam McCandless.
- “The three brothers are a VIBE,” said Seguin. “All have the best energy and are our biggest hype club. They are cheering the loudest and working the hardest on every single WOD.”
Athletes Jaden, Paige, John K, Christopher, Meghan and Ben all have their personal goals as well, including knee raises, burpees, jumping jacks, squatting to depth and improving their dance moves.
Seguin and Mack recount their past CrossFit Open experiences and describe the throwdowns, with members circling the adaptive athletes, cheering them on, the energy electric. The emotion, comradery and connection that every athlete shares is All Level CrossFit’s mission statement come to life:
- “Our community is what makes us special. And it’s what will keep you going.”
Beyond All Level: Outside of All Level Crossfit, Seguin and Mack have worked with other gyms, throughout the United States and Canada, assisting in the building and formation of other similar programs.
- “So many people and gyms are interested in starting an adaptive program, but there’s not a lot out there on the ‘how-to,” said Seguin.
- “What we have here is a really really special thing–for us to be able to share how to implement this in their gym and for them to not feel like they’re on an island and that starting it all is not such a daunting thing,” said Mack.
The bottom line: Seguin and Mack will be presenting soon at the CrossFit Canada Summit, on how to incorporate this inclusion model at gyms nationwide. The core focus of their presentation and of their overall mission at All Level is to promote the accessibility and opportunity for fitness and competition; and help to answer the question, how can individuals with intellectual disability access fitness and community in the same way as everyone else.