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Adaptive CrossFit program teaches strength-building and everyday skills

Underground Fitness is home to an Adaptive CrossFit program that teaches participants how to build strength and master every day movements (WLOS Staff).PNG
Underground Fitness is home to an Adaptive CrossFit program that teaches participants how to build strength and master everyday movements (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

Julie Hansell is a ball of energy when she's coaching her Wednesday class at Underground Fitness. A smile constantly stretched across her face, her eyes light up every time one of her athletes conquer the hill they're tackling at the moment. Today it's a combination of machine cardio, ball slams, agility ladders, and sit-ups.

But the 45-minute session means more than a good sweat. The participants in this class are all athletes from the Buncombe County Special Olympics.

"I've always been a huge proponent of CrossFit being something that can be scaled and adapted to any type of athlete," Hansell explained. "We saw an opportunity to create a program where we could get some of our Special Olympics athletes into the gym, working out, feeling like they're more included."

Karla Furnari is brimming with the same energy as Hansell but channels it through a more stoic front. She's the local coordinator for BCSO, but also helps coach the Adaptic CrossFit class at Underground Fitness.

"We try to strengthen their muscles, try to help them live independently, and give them the tools," Furnari said of the goals of the class. "If they were at home by themselves and they happen to fall or something along those lines, they know how to get back up properly and without hurting themselves."

While the workouts are similar to what you'll find in many routines, they serve a specific purpose here. The agility ladder helps with balance and coordination; the ball slams simulate having to pick up objects and move them to a different place. Sit-ups strengthen the core, key to most daily functions.

"Our goals basically at the end of the day are to get them better at ADLs, which are Activities of Daily Living," Hansell stated. "Things that they're going to have to do in the real world all the time."

There was one impediment that not even the coaches were prepared for: the Coronavirus.

When gyms across the state were forced to shut down in the spring the original home of the Adaptive CrossFit program, South Slope CrossFit, closed its doors and never re-opened. That left the program that is so near and dear to many hearts in limbo.

"As soon as they shut down, obviously I was panicking because I didn't know what to do," sighed Hansell.

It wasn't as simple as moving to a garage or any random gym in the city. There needed to be specific equipment to best-serve the Special Olympics athletes. Underground Fitness, with its open floor plan and CrossFit-esque set-up was perfect.

However, even when Governor Roy Cooper allowed gyms to re-open, the coaches pulled back the reigns on calling their athletes back into the weight room.

"The population that we serve in the adaptive program is more susceptible to catching the Coronavirus or anything like that," Furnari pointed out. "So, we needed to make sure that we were taking extreme precautions for the interest of our athletes."

All of those setbacks and hurdles couldn't stop Paige Soderman. Her motivation is similar to many that drag themselves through grueling routines day in and day out. "I want to lose weight and I want to get some six-pack abs for the summer," she grinned.

When she's with her classmates at Underground, she morphs into her alter ego: Alex Morgan, better known as the superstar soccer play for the World Cup champion U.S. Women's National Team.

"Alex Morgan is a person with confidence," Soderman gushed. "She gets overwhelmed with work and everything, and she never gives up."

Just like Soderman, her fellow athletes, and their coaches.

"In any situation, maybe Plan A doesn't work, but there's always going to be a Plan B and a Plan C," Hansell smiled. "You just kind of adapt and go from there when you need to."