Special Needs Parents: How Crossfit is Changing My Life!

Claire Smyth by Claire Smyth Additional Needs

Claire Smyth

Claire Smyth

It was a cold September Saturday in 2013 and I was working at an outdoor event when I bent to lift a crate of bottled water.

I immediately felt a stab of pain travel from my lower back down my right leg.

I knew this wasn't good!

I struggled through the rest of the day in a haze of pain relief and by the time I got home, needed help to get out of the car my back had seized up so much.

What happened that day was a result of 5 years of moving and handling Daniel incorrectly.

I was strong and fit - regularly running 10km and half marathons but I ignored the niggles of pain.

Lifting him was no problem to me.

Or so I told myself.

He's an average boy in terms of weight and height but with low tone and no ability to assist whoever is moving him, his dead weight feels significantly heavier than his actual weight.

The weeks and months that followed gave me a scare.

'Suspected torn discs on L5 & L6.'

'Complete rest.'

'No lifting.'

The stuff of nightmares for a special needs parent.

How were we going to cope?

Did this mean I'd not be able to manage Daniel by myself?

Our home at this stage wasn't adapted nor did we have a wheelchair accessible vehicle.

With minimal weight bearing, Daniel needs significant help with every aspect of movement and all his transitions.

Another comment also filled me with dread.

'Your running days are over.'

Running was my thing, don't get me wrong I wasn't any good at it. But it was my stress relief, my down time, my hobby. And the thought of never doing it again, well...it was hard to take.

While I waited for an MRI scan, I began looking at other ways of healing/strengthening my back and finding a new hobby.

So I tried - Yoga, Pilates, Personal Trainer, Gym Classes, I even got a Cross Trainer (it became a clothes horse).

Nothing clicked with me.

This period of time did give me an opportunity to rest though.

I concentrated on minimising the amount I lifted Daniel.

I really focussed on lifting him correctly when I had to, our home was adapted, we moved him downstairs and we took delivery of a shiny new wheelchair accessible car or the bingo bus as it's affectionately called.

I found the spasms of pain were reducing, I could cut back on the painkillers, my movement was freeing up and I felt ready to start running again.

New trainers, a date in the diary for a half marathon and my first run - January 2016.

It didn't go well. 3 miles in and I admitted defeat. I sat on the side of the road, phoned my husband and in tears asked him to come and pick me up. Think Paula Radcliffe in the Beijing Olympics, it was that dramatic. Well for me anyway!

'Why don't you try Crossfit?', he suggested in the car on the way home.

He'd recently taken up Crossfit and I'd watched the YouTube videos with him, WODs, Double Unders, AMRAPS, Metcons. It was like whole new language and it looked ridiculously hard.

'Don't be daft, I'd never be able to do it - not with my back.'

After months hearing all about how amazing Crossfit was, watching him go from strength to strength. I decided to give it a go.

It was with much trepidation that I went along to Crossfit MCI for my first fast track session.

It many ways it was exactly what I expected.

It was scary. It was like no other form of exercise I have ever done. It was like learning a new language.

But it's what I didn't expect that's been the most surprising.

And that's how quickly Crossfit has improved my strength, most importantly for me, my core strength and also how it's improved my movement.

Crossfit Coach Matt McLoughlin explains, 'Crossfit is based on functional movements - the core movements of life. These movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. We vary these functional movements constantly and perform them at high intensity.

Crossfit programming is scaled and suitable for all ages and physical conditions. We never change the programme but rather scale the load and the intensity to suit the individual.

That's exactly what we've done with Claire - we've worked on her mechanics and form. It's great to hear that she's already feeling the benefits in a short space of time.

The focus is very much on mechanics followed by consistency and then on intensity, The more work you do in less time, the more intense the effort, making it a perfect programme for anyone with a busy schedule who needs to make the most of their time.'

So three months in and although my focus is still very much on not doing it unless I have to, I'm finding that on the occasions where moving and handling Daniel is still necessary, it is easy and more manageable.

Another unexpected surprise is that Crossfit is about so much more than an exercise programme, like the world of special needs it's a Community. It's a community of like minded individuals supporting each other, encouraging each other and even competing against each other using a system of whiteboards and records creating a sense of camaraderie like no other.

I'm glad I took that first step into the Box (a Crossfit gym - told you it was a whole new language).

Not only am I a happier, healthier person. I'm also a fitter and stronger one.

Crossfit is helping prepare my mind and body to care for my little boy who I have to accept is not so little any more.

And is just going to get bigger.


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