Growing Up Together
My younger sister is beautiful, funny and one of my favorite people in the world. We’ve spent countless hours playing together and struggling through the challenges that most girls face growing up. There is something that has always made her a little different from most other girls, though. My little sister has Down Syndrome.
Growing up and to this day I have always felt a deep, almost motherly, sense of responsibility towards her. I don’t always have the freedom to do what I want and sometimes I need to change my plans at a moment’s notice because I might need to watch her or take her to an activity. At times the feeling of responsibility for my sister has been overwhelming, especially when I was much younger. Despite this, I am truly grateful for her and all the things that she’s taught me over the years. She has greatly enriched my life, making me more sympathetic of others less fortunate than myself.
Before I started my CrossFit journey last year, I used to go to a traditional gym with my sister. She still goes there and gets personal training once a week so that she can stay active. Due to having special needs, she is on medication to help balance her out. Unfortunately, one of the medication’s side effects is that it makes her really hungry. In order to keep her weight at a healthy level, we take her diet and exercise very seriously. Though the personal trainer that works with her is terrific, like most gyms there isn’t all that much interaction with other members. When we used to go together some people would smile at me and her, but most would just walk on by in their own workout zone. There is nothing wrong with that, but I never realized how much traditional gyms lack a sense of togetherness until I started CrossFit.
A Different Kind Of Place
The personal interaction at my CrossFit gym has made a huge difference in my life. What really touches me the most though is how everyone has embraced my sister. When I first started, I used to just skip the workout if something came up and my mom needed me to watch her. It wasn’t until I felt comfortable with the people and coaches in my gym that I started thinking about taking her to watch a class. The first time I decided to bring her in I was nervous. I wouldn’t be able to keep my eye on her the entire time and do the workout, though I knew she would most likely stay on the couch the whole time playing on her iPod. What happened next truly amazed me to the point of tears and will forever make a lasting impression of how extraordinary this community really is.
Over the years I’ve gotten used to people being uncomfortable around her because they haven’t had enough experience to know how to act around someone with special needs. There’s no shame in that, I don’t know how I would be if I didn’t have her in my life. When I first brought her in and sat her on that couch, friends of mine started coming over to meet her and say hi. She had some books and an iPod to keep her occupied for the time I’d be working out. As everyone assembled to start class, I tried to push my nervousness aside and just glance over every now and then. One of the coaches that was there doing some construction on the new wing that night took it upon himself to look out for her. He made sure she had water if she was thirsty, and when her iPod died he brought over an extension cord and a charger so she could keep playing her game. I was so touched to watch him sit next to her and keep her company the entire time - he probably doesn’t realize how much that meant to me.
After class was over, I went over to thank him for keeping her company and he just shrugged it off like it was no big deal. It's seemingly small acts like this that really separate the CrossFit community from any other. From that day on, I didn’t feel apprehensive at all about bringing her in with me. My mom on the other hand, was less convinced, but she let me do it because we both have stuff we need to do every week and we balance the responsibilities as best we can. She was finally convinced of how great an environment it was during a competition at our box that I was competing in. My family stopped by to watch some of it, and it was really their first experience with that type of event. My mom was completely blown away with how many people came up to say hello to my sister; giving her hugs and fist bumps. By that point I had been taking her with me about once a week so everyone was very familiar with her. This might not seem like a big deal, but after experiencing much different reactions for so many years, it really was.
We have always endured stares from people that don’t understand and feel uncomfortable with her disability. This can make you feel like you don’t belong, and is hard on the family who know the joy of having this unique person in their life. To have a place where right from the get go there is overwhelming acceptance for her is just incredible for us, and that was something my mom made sure to express to me later that night.
I know that my sister looks forward to our gym trips and really enjoys the attention that she gets when she’s there. I always get a kick out of seeing how much fun she has before and after class with all of our new friends. Without being asked, and most likely without knowing it, the people at CrossFit201 have made a big impact on my life and the life of my sister. What started as a fun way to work out has turned into a life changing experience for the both of us.
I think CrossFit would be a great outlet for anyone with special needs to participate in. Of course it depends on the severity of their disability, but I know my sister needs a good workout to stay in shape and I’m sure it could be adapted. Now, I don’t know if she is the prime candidate since she needs to be physically forced into movement by a treadmill, but I’m sure there are others who would benefit from modified CrossFit programming. People with special needs do extraordinary things all the time; need I mention The Special Olympics? Just seeing the love and support of this community, I think anything is possible.
- My sister getting a workout in on the treadmill