CrossFit® training is known for its intensity and variety of exercises, but has often been thought to be unsuitable for people with physical disabilities. There's a branch of this discipline, however, called CrossFit® Adaptive, which is opening the doors to new opportunities for these people, allowing them to overcome both physical and mental obstacles.
We had the privilege of interviewing the coach Mario Cusimano, whose commitment at the CrossFit ® Lonigo box, owned by Nicola Nicolussi, is revolutionizing the CrossFit® scene, making it more inclusive and accessible.
Mario explained to us that this branch of CrossFit® focuses on creation of personalized programs, adapted to individual needs of athletes with motor disabilities.
This means that there is no "one size fits all” when it comes to CrossFit® Adaptive; each workout is designed to enable each athlete to achieve their goals and overcome their personal challenges.
First of all, we are curious to find out who is behind this beautiful project!
Coach Cusimano: Hi, I'm Mario Cusimano, FIPE II level instructor, FIPE Personal Trainer over 65 teacher, NSCA-CPT certified, FIPE Sthenathlon I level Instructor, MAAFA level I and TRX Certified Instructor.
I started my career in the sports and training field more than 15 years ago with calisthenics training and as a Functional Training instructor at the GOLD GYM 4 gyms in Lonigo and Palextra Center in Ponte di Barbarano.
At the same time I dedicated myself to practicing weightlifting, obtaining the II level of FIPE technical instructor. I participated in the Sthenathlon final in Ostia 2023 and in the VRB 2023 last June.
This year I will try the Sthenathlon 2024 qualifications and the WODCELLONA 2024 open.
It's a pleasure for us to chat with you. Can you tell us how the idea of creating a CROSSFIT® ADAPTIVE for kids with motor disabilities at CrossFit ® Lonigo was born?
Coach Cusimano: My career in the Adaptive field began after Covid, following a girl at the Palextra Center in Barbarano Vicentino and proposing CrossFit® adapted as a discipline due to the variety of movements and functions, as well as the possibility of having 360 degree conditioning .
After a few months, a teammate joined them (they were competitive swimmers) and before the transition to the CrossFit® box, a third athlete.
Seeing the benefits obtained both on a psychological and motor level, I proposed to the CrossFit ® Lonigo box to bring my experience within a recognized sporting field.
The owner Nicola Nicolussi enthusiastically supported the idea, giving me full support. In September this year we organized an OPEN DAY and we had surprising feedback: five people on trial, of which four subsequently signed up.
Today we are proud to have a group of seven athletes and we are more motivated than ever!
So are you the one following the adaptive kids? Can you explain how it works?
Coach Cusimano: Yes, the undersigned follows and plans the training sessions, sometimes in agreement with Nicola, sometimes independently.
The program includes an initial phase of learning and adapting the main CrossFit® movements. Obviously everything must be suited to the motor capacity of the individual athlete, and, where necessary, I ask to be put in contact with the physiotherapist or I make use of the collaboration of the instructors of the MAAG course.
Let's clarify: can all boxes accept an athlete with a disability?
Coach Cusimano: It is enough that there is an accredited instructor and that, obviously, the box has the legal requirements to accommodate the various athletes, especially if in a wheelchair.
Fortunately, the media impact of the Paralympics and events such as WODCELLONA have contributed to spreading the culture of adapted training open to all.
Then you need common sense and a lot of imagination. We are not talking about an exact science, so many things often need to be adapted. I take this opportunity to invite all Box owners to welcome disabled people, both for personal enrichment and to attribute social value to the box itself.
Regarding the preparation of a disabled athlete: we imagine that in addition to physical limitations there are also psychological blocks. How do you approach this?
Coach Cusimano: Fortunately I have former athletes or subjects who have had a competitive past in their field, so they have a natural propensity to get involved and try new gestures or movements.
Furthermore, it is right to remember that motor activity is a strong incubator of positive emotions. I have athletes who would like to train almost every day.
CrossFit® presents ever-changing challenges, and this creates a strong stimulus, especially for those with a competitive nature.
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In your opinion, what are the difficulties during a workout from the athlete's point of view? And what are the problems from the coach's point of view?
Coach Cusimano: The real problem is the approach with a new athlete. Two subjects who have the same disability often have different adaptive needs, not only for reasons of age and gender, but because they have, for example, a different sporting background or a different medical history.
But generally, after a month, you can manage the class well. I have always found a great willingness to collaborate from my athletes.
We need to maintain a constant dialogue, be open to help and have a lot of humility. With my athletes we have a constant exchange of ideas, every suggestion is an important source for finding adaptive solutions.
Let's remember that no matter how prepared an adapted CrossFit® instructor may be, he will never be able to empathize with their situation.
In addition to these difficulties, we imagine there are still taboos on the topic. Both from the side of society and from the athletes themselves. Is it really like that?
Coach Cusimano: The first thing I ask, obviously within the limits and respecting their wishes, is to know the history of their disability, their clinical history, any interventions, to know the difficulties they encounter in daily life and to know their motor limitations.
This allows me to get a complete picture of their situation and then start a path of improvement, because CrossFit® is not just used to finish a WOD, but in their case it serves to make them progressively more autonomous.
The job of any adapted CrossFit® coach is to make the extraordinary…ordinary!
What advice would you give to a disabled athlete who wants to approach CF?
Coach Cusimano: Guys, get involved, don't be "afraid"! Thanks to adapted CrossFit®, I have seen incredible progress in my athletes on both a physical and psychological level.
As important as specific sports disciplines such as basketball, tennis or swimming (the most practiced) may be, it must be considered that we are talking about mono-functional disciplines, i.e. the same movement patterns are repeated.
In CrossFit® you train the body at 360 degrees. Don't be afraid, we are ready to welcome you because we want disability not to be invisible.
Let's break down the social barriers that often tend to separate the two worlds, let's focus on cohesion and integration. No one is disabled in movement, but everyone can become an extraordinary athlete through CrossFit® Adaptive.
We are waiting for you at CrossFit ® Lonigo!