By Stephanie Hammerman
Special to CNN
Editor’s note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week, we meet Stephanie Hammerman, who is the first certified CrossFit trainer in the world with cerebral palsy.
(CNN) — I wasn’t always in love with the idea of fitness or being healthy.
But it’s something that became extremely important after losing one of my best friends, Scott Pollock, in December 2005, and realizing that life was way too short to just be thrown away on junk food and little activity; that wasn’t living.
When Scott passed, I made a promise to him and myself that I would do everything in my power to keep his dreams of making a difference for people with different abilities in the world of fitness alive. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do it, but I knew that if I wanted to I would have to get myself in shape first and the rest would soon fall into place.
In my freshman year at Lynn University, as I was looking through pictures posted on Facebook, I began to see a person I didn’t like, and I knew something needed to be done to change it.
By the time I started my sophomore year and was acclimated with the campus, I had made a great deal of friends and was doing well in school, but something was missing.
I was going to the gym about three times a week doing as much as I could on my own, but it wasn’t always easy to get in and out of machines or to know which exercises would be beneficial.
I told my family what I was trying to do and they agreed to support me so I could work with a personal trainer. After meeting with a few different people, I met with Frank Manusky. That’s when the transformation began.
From my first meeting with Frank, I knew this was going to be successful. He had worked with people of the adaptive population before and had told me that anything was possible, as long I wanted it to be.
About four months into our training, I came to Frank with what seemed to be a crazy idea: After watching athletes compete in hand cycles one weekend I wanted to complete a marathon. Without hesitation, he said, “OK, let’s get to work then.”
I finished my first hand-cycling marathon on December 4, 2011, with a time of 4:34:14. When I looked up at that clock, more exhausted than I have ever been, something inside of me said, “I have to do this again, but next time do it better.”
That was the day my competitive spirit was brought to life. I competed in several races after that and loved every second of it, but I wanted to get stronger. This is when I first heard about CrossFit.
I walked into my first CrossFit box (gym) on May 3, 2012. I saw people who had just finished a workout lying flat on their backs, breathing heavily, looking like they had just come out of a war zone. I thought to myself, “I want to do this and look like that someday.”
That first day I spent close to an hour with Scott Lefferts, owner of CrossFit Hard Core Boca Raton. We talked about everything from what I had done before, to what I thought I could do, to what I thought at the time was physically impossible.
Scott accepted me for everything I was and together we took it workout by workout. Six months into my experience, I saw undeniable changes. I was stronger, I was moving faster, and all I could seem to think or talk about was CrossFit.
It’s now been a year. I have worked with several different coaches and have had the opportunity to travel the country showing people how an adaptive athlete with CP gets it done.
If you would have told me that in a year I would be lifting weights over my head, flipping tires and coaching this sport, I wouldn’t have believed you, but this is my reality. As an adaptive athlete and coach, I see and do things differently than most, but that doesn’t make my desire to be great any weaker.
In CrossFit when the term “RX’d” is used it means an athlete has done something as prescribed. My weights and rep scheme may never be RX, but my effort always will be. If this last year has taught me anything, it’s to embrace every challenge that comes your way because you never know when that challenge is going to turn into great opportunity.
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