Tell 24-year-old Stephanie Hammerman, ‘You can’t’, and she will prove you wrong.
“When I was born, the doctors told my parents I would never read, speak, or write. I am pretty sure I have proven them wrong,” Hammerman says.
Today, Hammerman is a CrossFit athlete who most recently competed in her fourth local fitness competition, Wodapalooza in Miami, where she won the “Spirit of the Games” award after a valiant showing.
And, oh yeah, did we mention she has Cerebral Palsy? It is a physical disability she was born with, affecting muscle tone, posture and movement, which will leave her in a wheelchair for most of her life.
However, Hammerman is doing everything but letting it slow her down. In fact, she is the first athlete ever with Cerebral Palsy to compete in the sport of CrossFit and the first ever woman with Cerebral Palsy to become a CrossFit trainer, currently coaching at CrossFit Conquest in Davie, FL.
“A lot of people have told me I pioneered something, and I find it hard to believe because there are multiple other adaptive athletes that are competing in this sport who work just as hard as I do. Honestly, if anything, I am an experiment…for a lot of coaches, for the whole sport in general, since I am the first athlete with Cerebral Palsy to do CrossFit,” Hammerman says.
Hammerman’s CrossFit journey began two years ago when she was looking for a way to spice up her personal training regimen after growing bored with the typical gym and weights. A competitive hand cyclist for many years, Hammerman yearned to continue to get stronger after finishing her first marathon in December 2011 in 4 hours and 34 minutes. She heard of CrossFit and on May 3, 2012, she distinctly remembers dropping into CrossFit Hardcore in Boca Raton, FL to see if it would help her step up her game.
“There were no guts needed. I wasn’t really nervous about trying CrossFit like some beginners will tell you they are. If anything, I wondered, ‘Are they going to let me do it? Are they going to take me seriously?’” Hammerman says.
The coach did, and from that day on Hammerman knew she had found what she was looking for.
“I had a dear friend who was an adaptive athlete. He was born with no arms and played basketball with his feet. Unfortunately, he passed away when I was 16. One day he was there, one day he wasn’t. He always had dreams of making things possible for adaptive athletes—a way for us to compete. I promised myself right then and there that I would not let his spirit die…then CrossFit came around—and I knew that was it.”
“Steph”, as she is known by most, quickly proved that CrossFit is scalable to all fitness levels, strengths, abilities and ages.
“I have learned how to appropriately scale workouts to my abilities. I can walk into any box now, see the whiteboard and immediately know what I need to do. For instance, take box jumps. I learned about a year ago that I would physically never be able to jump without holding onto something. I learned how to jump for the first time ever when I was 22—I am 24. That’s a big deal for me. Or take a WOD, say there were 50 ring rows, 40 box jumps and 30 ground to overhead and you only had 8-minutes to do it. I would scale the weight of the ground to overhead and I would scale the number of reps in order to finish the work while still getting the same intensity of the workout,” Hammerman says.
With a little more than a year of CrossFit experience under her belt, Hammerman went on to compete in the 2012 marathon for which she had been training. This time she finished in 3 hours and 22 minutes—shaving more than an hour off her previous time, thanks to her dedication to CrossFit training.
Seven months later, she decided she was ready to raise the bar, and contacted the owner of I AM CROSSFIT in Miami about putting on an “Adaptive Showcase” at the popular annual 2013 Crush Games.
“I got him on the phone, and he said, ‘Why don’t you just compete?’ That thought had not even crossed my mind, but it took me about two seconds, and then I said, ‘Sure, why not?’”.
After some collaborating and brainstorming with that coach about what exact movements she would do; Hammerman, nervous but excited, made her first fitness competition appearance that August. She says she not only gained experience, but confidence that she is as much of an athlete as the next person.
“I like to say I am not competing in a particular division or competition—I am competing with all these other great athletes…I don’t compete against other people…I am currently the only one in the world doing what I’m doing, so there’s no way to really compete against anyone. However, there’s one thing that is the same: At the end of the WOD, how does everyone feel? It doesn’t matter if you’re 12, 35 or 65. If you’re 300 pounds overweight, or 130 pounds fit. At the end of a WOD, when the clock stops, everyone is on their backs—it’s that same feeling of community.”
So after stepping into the world of competing this year, what’s next for Steph?
“I want to continue to become a better coach. I may not be able to show you all the movements, but I coach the sport as it is supposed to be coached, and teach it as it is supposed to be taught,” says Hammerman. “I am also focusing on working hard in the Open—I can’t register since the Open can’t be scaled, but I still do all the workouts. More than anything, I want to get my name out there to show others that anything is possible. Whatever you want to do in life, it’s only a matter of time if you keep that mindset.”
There’s no doubt that Hammerman radiates with a light of ‘inspiration.’
“I don’t want people to just say ‘You inspire me.’ If I inspire you, that’s awesome; but the real question is: What did I inspire you to do? I want to inspire people into action,” she says.