P.E.I. parasport athletes encouraging others to try CrossFit

·4 min read
Jeremy MacDonald competed in his first CrossFit competition last month. (Katherine Drake Photography - image credit)
Jeremy MacDonald competed in his first CrossFit competition last month. (Katherine Drake Photography - image credit)

Two parasport athletes on P.E.I. are encouraging others with disabilities to get involved with CrossFit.

Last month, they both competed in their first competition as part of a team at Court 6 CrossFit's Trinity Games in Charlottetown.

However there weren't enough para-athletes for their own adaptive CrossFit competition and they had to compete on a team with athletes without disabilities.

"We just sort of modified the workouts to what our abilities were. So we did basically the same movements and all the same stimulus," said Jeremy MacDonald.

"We just sort of modified the weights and the movements a little bit to fit our own particular physical abilities."

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

While MacDonald liked the chance to compete alongside athletes without disabilities, he would like to see more people with disabilities get into the sport.

"I'd love disabled people just to kind of get more into functional fitness as part of their everyday lives and if as a consequence of that more people want to compete then that's great for the sport," MacDonald said.

Though MacDonald is a competitor at heart, he said it isn't all about who can lift the most weight.

There is no more welcoming environment in a gym than what you are going to find here. — Jeremy MacDonald

"One of the goals of CrossFit is to have functional fitness, so functional meaning movements that can translate into your everyday life … whether that be as a wheelchair user being able to bend over and pick something up," he said.

MacDonald has cerebral palsy. It affects his ability to stand and the mobility in his left arm — but he said high-intensity interval training helps him maintain mobility.

"In my case, where I have some ability to stand and walk that would be being able to get out of the chair, building up endurance in the leg so that I do preserve that ability to stand and walk."

Katherine Drake Photography
Katherine Drake Photography

MacDonald works out at CrossFit 782 in Charlottetown. There used to be a dedicated adaptive program for people with disabilities, but that was stopped when COVID first hit P.E.I. back in 2020. MacDonald said the gym helps clients modify workouts to their skill level.

"I would encourage people not to be kind of intimidated by the whole thing. Gyms can be hard for people that aren't used to them but there is no more welcoming environment in a gym than what you are going to find here."

Other options

There are other options for those who may not want to go to a gym though.

Fraser MacPhee has set up his garage to continue to train — he stopped going to the gym when the pandemic hit. His partner and kids often help him set up so he can lift weights and do pull ups — with his wheelchair attached the whole time.

Tony Dvais/CBC
Tony Dvais/CBC

The training can be so physically demanding he gets more out of it than he would doing a series of other exercises.

"When we were at the gym two sessions a week was giving me more benefit than triathlon training and work," he said.

MacPhee has hereditary spastic paraplegia. The type he has is caused by an increase of cholesterol in his cerebral fluid and causes paralysis. It mostly affects his lower body and high-intensity workouts allow him to maintain some upper body strength — but it isn't just about that — staying active also helps his mental health.

"It gives me something to focus on, it gives me an outlet I wouldn't have otherwise. It allows me to focus more at work, and I hope most of the time, I'm more patient with everybody," he said.

MacPhee said for people with disabilities who want to be more active, the Challenged Athletes Foundation and ParaSport P.E.I. are good places to go for support.

MacPhee thinks adding more transportation options might get more people with disabilities to the gym.

"A lot of people who have disabilities need help getting to the gym."

There are no local competitions in the near future for either athlete — but MacDonald said he is thinking about training for a competition in Miami, Fla., next year.

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