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CrossFit instructor with cerebral palsy striving to make a difference

August 30, 2013
Source: Sun Sentinel - Florida

Nova Southeastern University's newest extreme-fitness instructor is used to pushing the boundaries.

That's what it takes, after all, to become what CNN and others are calling the world's first woman with cerebral palsy to be certified as a CrossFit instructor.

"When I was younger and I began to find that I had a voice, I didn't know then how powerful of a tool it would become," said Steph Hammerman, 23, of Davie.

That tool not just her voice but the drive to make a difference for disabled athletes has propelled her to heights others with cerebral palsy have not reached in the world of fitness.

Little more than a year after discovering the high-intensity, strength-building CrossFit regimen, Hammerman became certified in June as a Level I instructor. She's now assistant coach for a weekly class at CrossFit in Davie, and was recently named co-instructor of an intense Xtreme Fitness class at the Recreational Complex at NSU, where she is pursuing a master's degree in college student affairs.

Added to that, last weekend, she became the first disabled athlete to compete against 1,000 other able-bodied, elite contenders in the Crush Games, an annual, three-day competition in Sunrise that bills itself as the largest and "most intense" CrossFit competition in the area. She wasn't able to place, since she was the only athlete in her category, but she hit a personal record with a routine scaled to adjust to her abilities graduating from a 15-pound barbell to 42 pounds in under eight minutes.

We are enormously proud of her and her accomplishments," said Gay Holliday, associate dean of student affairs and the College of Undergraduate Studies. "The attention she has received for her work and for her accomplishments, having a disability that's visible, certainly serves as a role model for others with disabilities, and I think for everyone.

"I think she's certainly on her way to making a difference."

Hammerman's competitive drive began at a young age, while growing up in Long Island, N.Y., with nine "regular," able-bodied siblings including her very agile twin brother.

"Growing up with a twin brother who played football and was involved in all the sports, I wanted to keep up," said Hammerman, who uses a wheelchair or forearm crutches to get around.

And, she said, her parents encouraged her at every stage. At age 6, she began competing in the Empire State Games, an annual, Olympic-style competition in New York for amateur athletes of all ages and abilities.

"Once [my parents] figured out I had a brain and I understood my own actions, there was no way to treat me any differently," she said.

But it was a close childhood friendship that forged Hammerman's desire to make a mark as an athlete.

Born without arms but excelling despite his limitations, Scott Pollock was a "star" wheelchair basketball player who lived by the mantra, "Failure is not an option." On Dec. 13, 2005, Pollock died of an aneurysm. He was just 16, a year older than Hammerman.

"He always talked about wanting to make a difference for people with different abilities to be able to play sports, because he felt like it would never be equal," Hammerman said. "I decided that was something I hoped to fulfill, with him in mind."

She started full-force on that path six years later, while pursuing an undergraduate degree at Lynn University in Boca Raton, where the sedentary life of a student had her pack on a few extra pounds. Motivated to drop the weight, she competed in her first marathon, on a hand cycle, finishing the December 2011 Palm Beaches Marathon in four hours and 34 minutes. A year later, she shaved an hour and 12 minutes off her time, and in February, she won the Fort Lauderdale Half Marathon in her category, with a time of one hour and 38 minutes.

By then, she was a hardcore disciple of CrossFit training. "I didn't think I could do this, but little by little, I became addicted," Hammerman said.

Because of the weakened muscles central to her condition, Hammerman can't jump, lunge or toss tires like other CrossFit participants. But her personal workouts are adapted for her abilities, and she can teach the class through commands.

"I'll never teach a class on my own because I need [another instructor] to show them the moves," she said. "I'm not great, not yet. One day, I'll be good, and one day, I'll be great. But it takes time."

Note: Article includes an uncaptioned video (1:30).

Link: Go to website for News Source,0,1206182.story

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