Steph Hammerman: overcoming Cerebral Palsy with Crossfit

The weight doesn’t matter. Your effort does. Failure is not an option for Steph who has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy shortly after birth, meaning her motor function and balance are impaired.Next time you complain Olympic lifts are too hard to learn or the WOD doesn’t suit you, take a ...

The weight doesn’t matter. Your effort does. Failure is not an option for Steph who has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy shortly after birth, meaning her motor function and balance are impaired.

Next time you complain Olympic lifts are too hard to learn or the WOD doesn’t suit you, take a visit to Steph’s I adapt fitness Instagram and grab some determination from her. No excuses.

Athlete’s ID:

Name: Steph Hammerman
Nickname: “The Hammer”
Age: 24
CrossFit box: CrossFit TNL Tampa
Job: Customer Service Representative, TEN Institute; Level 1 Trainer, TNL Tampa
Favourite exercise: burpees, running, clean
Favourite motivational quote: “Failure is not an option.”- Scott Pollock
Favourite Crossfit athlete: To be honest, I don’t have a “favourite” I am lucky enough to say that I have been able to train and create relationships with many elite men and women of this sport. I have a great amount of respect for each and every one of them and feel fortunate to know that they whole-heartedly support the adaptive athletic movement that is currently rapidly expanding.
Web: I adapt fitness

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1. Hi Steph, so how’s your day going so far?

My day is going well so far thank you. It is quite early here as I write this so pretty much the only productive thing I’ve done right now is prepared my meals for the day.

2. Have you already done your training for today? If not, what’s on the whiteboard?  

I haven’t done my training as of yet, I have been training hard the last few days so, I think today I am going to go into the box and work on my Muscle-ups with one of the other coaches. This is a skill I have always wanted to work on, and now I can thanks to Power Monkey Fitness, and their Ring Thing. I am proud to be an advocate for our adaptive athletic community and when I find equipment that wasn’t necessarily designed for us specifically, but works extremely well I get excited. The Ring Thing is simply a set of rings attached to a pulley-system, while this is supposed to help every day athletes improve their skills involving the rings; it gave me the opportunity to complete a full muscle up for the first time, and now that I own one I try to improve on that skill as much as I can.

3. Your story involves cerebral palsy. Can you explain us what this actually is?

This is very true. I live with Cerebral Palsy (CP) and have since shortly after birth. I am a twin and we arrived about 3 months premature. As a result of this I happen to lose a lot of oxygen and blood and was diagnosed with CP a little while after. In simple terms, I tell people that through that loss of oxygen and blood it caused impaired motor function and balance. So, daily tasks like walking from place to place, getting dressed or picking something up takes me a little bit longer than it would my twin brother, but I grew up in a family where I wasn’t treated any differently from any of my siblings. I like to think that because of that I live a completely independent, normal life that any young adult would. I live on my own, drive a car, have a master’s degree and 2 jobs and great friends so, I don’t really have anything to complain about.

4. I had a look at your videos, you pushing the prowler and lifting weights, and saw a whole-heartedly dedicated athlete. How did CrossFit change your life?

Thank you for taking time to watch those videos. It still blows my mind that thousands of people care to take time out of their day to pay attention to mine, but in the last two years I have definitely worked hard and love that I have the opportunity to be an example for someone else out there. When I first started Crossfit May, 3, 2012 I had no idea my life would be headed in the direction it is now. I first joined the community because I wanted to become a better hand-cyclist. I had done my first full marathon (26.2mi) in Dec 2011, crossing the finish in 4:34:16. Although I was proud of my efforts, I knew I could do better. After only a few months of Crossfit I did the same marathon in 3:22:24 and that was an amazing feeling. Just like anyone else I quickly became hooked to the community and lifestyle of the sport. Unlike everyone else, I was the only one in world doing Crossfit with CP (that I knew of) and so, learning the scales for movement didn’t always come easily. I am lucky to say that to this day I have worked with wonderful coaches who helped unlock my potential.

So much so, that on June 2,, 2013 I took my Level 1 Trainers course and once I passed that it was official that I was the world’s first woman with CP to be doing Crossfit and be a Coach. It was definitely an honour to hold this title, but I am happy to report that as soon as that news broke I saw a rise in the amount of athletes with CP taking part in the community.

5. Do you remember the time of your life when you realized what cerebral palsy is? How did it make you feel?

To be honest, I don’t. I have been very lucky in the sense that I never really dealt with bullying or truly feeling different growing up. I remember that people would say things or do things because they thought I couldn’t understand them, but like most children I was lucky to have a strong vocabulary and the ability to articulate my thoughts. My family made sure that I understood how important it was going to be for me to advocate for myself because more times than not no one else is going to do it for you.

6. Could you say Crossfit and sport in general saved you in some way? Redefined your life, future, attitude…?

I can’t say that it “saved” me from anything, but what I can say it is helping me define my life’s purpose. Some people living with different abilities aren’t able to express their thoughts or fight for something they believe in so, I feel like I now have a responsibility to the community to be that example for others. Sure, this can be overwhelming sometimes, but one of my favourite things to do is change people’s perception of what they think is possible. It’s definitely a fun change to witness.

7. What are the biggest misconceptions people have about adaptive athletes?

I think people automatically assume that even showing up to the gym as an adaptive athlete is an accomplishment, but what most people fail to see is that I don’t view myself as anything different than the next athlete. I wear the title of “adaptive athlete” proudly, but I still set standards for myself. I may have to complete movements differently, but I shouldn’t be rewarded for doing everyday tasks. We are all dealt different hands in life, but as soon as I enter the box to workout I am an athlete, and that’s one of my favourite things about our sport of Crossfit and community.

8. You are also a CrossFit Level 1 coach? Do you feel like you are on a mission here? How would you like to influence others with your coaching?

I don’t know if I’d call it a mission. If you ask anyone why they become a coach most of the responses are because they loved the sport so much and that just feels like the next step to take. My situation is unique in the sense that my coaching style is mainly based on verbal cuing, which definitely posed a challenge in the beginning. Like anything else with practice comes comfort, and many of the coaches that have given me an opportunity to work with them have given me a chance to make mistakes and learn from them. I love coaching and I love the feeling that comes from watching others achieve things they never once thought possible through your guidance. As time goes on I want to continue to gain as much knowledge and skill as I can to be the best coach I can be.

9. What message do you have for the Crossfit community?

“No matter the weight chosen for a workout your effort should always be Rx.” Athletes often get discouraged because they struggle completing a workout as prescribed. I’d rather you give it 100% every time rather than focusing on a specific number. It is often forgotten that mental toughness is as equally, if not more important than physical strength. I know I will never physically be able to complete many movements as they are written, but I would never cheat myself out of an experience.

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10. Do you have any role models? Or who/what inspires you daily?

People often ask why I am so passionate about making a difference in this sport and my simple answer is because other influential people aren’t here anymore to make an impact. When I was 15, long before I knew what Crossfit was or the potential I had as an athlete I lost one of my best friends. Scott Pollock was just like any teenager; he loved video games, the ladies and sports. His favourite sport to play and watch was basketball. He had one of the biggest hearts of anyone I had ever come across and never took no for an answer. Scott was an amazing friend and an awesome adaptive athlete. Yup, he played basketball from a power chair using just his feet because well, he didn’t have a choice. Scott was born with no arms. Some people would look at him in amazement, but we grew up together so to me, this was just how Scott got things done. His passion as an athlete is truly what motivates me to be the best I can be and do the most I can do to make a difference in the world for adaptive athletes. He may have passed 8 years ago, but his spirit will always live in my heart and continue to drive me.

11. If I would give you a task to describe your personality with 5 words, what words would you choose?

Loyal. Stubborn. Creative. Honest. Driven.

12. What do you think about having CrossFit Games for adaptive athletes as well?

I would love to see adaptive athletes as part of the Games experience. Just like they designate a few days for Masters I hope that we will have the same opportunity one day. I don’t think it needs to be at a whole different time or place. I think that defeats the purpose of showcasing how this sport is a sport for anyone who wants to be a part of it. I have a good feeling about the future and I am so glad to have a front row seat on this crazy ride.

13. Goals and plans for the future?

That’s a loaded question! I have many. In the last year I have developed an “Adapt and Conquer” seminar style class where I give participants a glimpse of what it’s like to participate in and coach this sport that we all love from my perspective. There are many types of adaptive athletes, but the way my body works and moves is unique. When participants sign up for my seminar they are willing to take off their everyday lifting shoes and slip into a pair of my nanos for a while. The conversation that occurs after people experience this is pretty fulfilling so; I can only hope to watch the desire for experiences like this grow. As I said before, this sport has helped me solidify my sense of purpose and if I’m lucky I’ll be able to help others achieve greatness the rest of my life. Another long term goal that I have had ever since I was a little girl… Write a New York Times Best Seller, but that’s a few years away. Who knows what the future will hold?

14. The best Crossfit experience so far?

I have had many, but I’d have to say competing in Crush Games III last year was one of the best experiences of my life. It was my introduction to the competitive Crossfit world. Mike Osuna is the director of the Crush Games, and owner of IAM CrossFit, Miami, and if it weren’t for him giving me the chance to compete I’m not sure I’d have the following or support I do right now. I competed in 5 full events, scaled to my needs and the second to last event was a max clean. We had 8 minutes to achieve our max and with 5 seconds left I picked up the 42 lb (My pervious max was 32lbs.) from my knees and completed the lift. It was one of the most amazing feelings of my life. I had no idea at the time, but the minute I hit that lift people truly began to view me as a competitive athlete. I will forever be grateful to Mike and his team for that experience. That was the day the Crossfit community embraced “The Hammer”.

Steph thank you for taking your time. BOXROX wishes all the best with your future endeavours. 


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BOXROX is an online-magazine for competitive fitness and functional sports. We’re on a mission to unite the community through passion-driven written, visual and interactive storytelling. We want to be the place where people meet daily to share their passion.


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