Athletes Keep Moving by Adapting Fitness
Not long after losing her left leg to cancer, Sarah Evans was asked if she wanted to try surfing. It seemed like a silly question. How could she?
Then, Evans observed a surfer with one arm enjoying the waves. She decided she should give it a try, too.
“It was that moment when I stopped saying ‘no’ and started saying ‘yes,’” Evans said of the shift in her mindset.
Through adaptive fitness programs, Evans has trained and participated in much more than surfing — competing in swimming, cycling, and hand cycling events. At its core, adaptive fitness is simple; it is training that is accessible and inclusive for everyone, regardless of ability.
“It means taking a workout with the same foundational stimulus while using a different mobility,” said Lovit White, Trinity Fitness Suntree owner and adaptive fitness trainer. “The adaptive athlete is able to get the same workout as an able body.”
This could include trainers who are certified to adapt the foundational workout for people who lack full mobility, or even entire workouts centered on adaptive exercises.
And White’s gym isn’t alone. Adaptive fitness programs have been rising in popularity as more gyms develop workouts and programs for athletes with immobility.
Cancer takes a leg
In 2011, Evans was three months into a deployment in Afghanistan as an officer in the U.S. Air Force when she learned she had bone cancer.
She went to San Antonio, where she underwent treatment.
In 2012, doctors amputated her left leg at her pelvis, as it was considered the only chance of surviving her type of cancer. While still in San Antonio, she moved to the Center for the Intrepid, a rehabilitation center for military amputees. There, she began physical therapy and heard for the first time about adaptive fitness.
Evans says this was pivotal for her recovery and beneficial to getting back to an active lifestyle. She competed for Team USA at the 2014 Invictus Games in swimming and cycling and won the time trial for hand cycling.
“I just assumed I couldn’t do it,” Evans said. “When I got there, they had signed me up for everything, and I was like, ‘I think you’ve made a mistake; I can’t do these things.’”
Evans ended up trying them all, though, and it helped her narrow down the events she truly enjoyed.
“I’ve done many things that I would never have done on two legs,” Evans said.
Evans works out regularly at Trinity Fitness Suntree, and a year ago became a trainer there, teaching classes to other members.
Evans says her biggest motivation to stay active is her two kids. They swim, play catch in the yard, and have even gone skiing as a family.
“My biggest drive is to do things with them; I don’t want my kids to see me and think I can’t do something,” Evans said.
Fernando Velez was an active, sports-loving boy when his world changed at age 11. Velez fractured his spinal cord in two places when a branch he was climbing on broke, and he fell out of a tree. His injuries left him paralyzed from the waist down.
He credits his family and friends for encouraging him to stay active.
“I always played with my able-bodied friends,” Velez said. “We would play touch football, basketball, baseball — that was easy for me, and mentally I never focused on not being able to walk, just that I was still able to do these things.”
Velez, now 55, remains active and involved in fitness pursuits.
“I drive, shop, go to my appointments, do everything for myself, and to do that, I need to stay strong and fit,” Velez said.
To stay active, Velez works out five days per week at LA Fitness in Melbourne where, along with weights, he also participates in Zumba and spin classes.
He says the people he works out with each day are like family.
“I know how they receive me when I come through those doors, and that is so powerful mentally,” Velez said.
Inspired to coach
Ham Boone is an adaptive trainer at Maverick CrossFit in Melbourne.
The 75-year-old retired physician’s assistant was a Marine and is a disabled veteran.
In 2015, Boone suffered a series of strokes. While rehabilitating, he attended a CrossFit Games event where he observed para-athletes competing. It inspired Boone to learn more about adaptive fitness and how to make it happen for more people.
“I decided that I would never complain about my strokes again,” Boone said. “I’m walking; I’m using my hands and feet; I’m super blessed.”
Two weeks later, Boone was certified by the Adaptive Training Academy and began approaching local gyms about setting up adaptive programs.
“What is so magical about this is that the adaptive athlete works out right next to the able-bodied athlete, and they feed off each other,” Boone said.
Boone still participates in CrossFit himself three times a week and lifts two to three days a week, using adaptive fitness modifications where needed. He knows adaptive fitness hinges on movements integral to everyday life, so his passion is to teach people to keep moving and get stronger.
“If it weren’t for adaptive CrossFit, I wouldn’t be doing what I do today.”
Room for growth
While adaptive fitness is growing, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Not all gyms have adaptive equipment, and even less have trainers with the certification needed to teach adaptive athletes properly.
“Many gyms use the word inclusive, but if you don’t have the proper training to include everybody, you aren’t,” White said. “We may have different impairments, but the overall goal of fitness is to be healthy inside and out. We are taking the inability out of the ability.”
And mainstreaming the physical component of fitness has a positive mental effect.
“I do feel normal; I feel like them,” Velez said. “They don’t see me in a wheelchair, they see me as a guy who wants to be fit just like them.”
Trinity Fitness Suntree
3280 Suntree Blvd, Suite #108
Melbourne, FL 32940