March 27, 2013
A Language of Their Own: Mary and Justin Simmons
By Jeff Rice

“I do not know the formal ASL signs for each movement, so often we spell them out or make them up. For burpees, I just repeat the sign for burp. The trainers always perform each movement for us ..."

Photos courtesy of Willie McWhirter and David DeAgazio.

For most CrossFit athletes, hearing “3, 2, 1 ... Go!” is as much a part of the workout as is loud music, the cheers of friends, the beep of the clock and encouragement yelled by coaches. But some never experience this.

For deaf CrossFitters Mary and Justin Simmons, their experience of CrossFit and of their first Open is absent these familiar trappings.

The Simmons' began CrossFit in fall 2012 after moving to Southborough, Mass. The married couple initially joined CrossFit SoBo as a way of losing weight and meeting others in the Southborough community. At CrossFit SoBo, they found an environment that helped them reach their fitness goals. They also found a community that helped fill in the gaps that come from not being able to hear at the gym. To facilitate communication, some of their coaches have been studying YouTube American Sign Language (ASL) videos and learning signs. Technology has provided support, as well.

“Our box encourages people to post on their blog and Facebook and Instagram,” Mary says. “This communication through technology has been very helpful for my husband, me and my deaf colleagues. It provides another way to communicate and get to know other members more. We get a lot more encouragement, interaction and feedback with the addition of social media.”

But CrossFit is a sport with a language of its own, and this has provided additional challenges for the Simmons' and their coaches.

“I do not know the formal ASL signs for each movement, so often we spell them out or make them up. For burpees, I just repeat the sign for burp. The trainers always perform each movement for us. I appreciate the effort they are putting into making our deaf athletes feel comfortable. They are always trying to improve and find better ways to share information and provide access for deaf individuals.”

Participating in the Open has provided a whole new set of challenges. For one, there are no captioned videos of the Open workouts or announcements. 

“This part is terrible,” Mary says. “We watched the live videos of 13.1 and 13.2 with no captions so we don't hear the tips, rules or no-no's. I also browse YouTube videos to learn movements, and it's hard to know what they say. It would be great to have some videos or vlogs in ASL.”

Doing the Open Workouts has also been different, as a lot more individual communication is needed.

“During normal WODs, we have a clock that shows a visual countdown,” Mary says. “But during the Open, it is a little harder with more people around and different judges. Once we understood it better and communicated with our judges, they were able to sign numbers for us and let us know the beeps and the rep counts.”

But no matter the difficulties, physical or communications related, the Simmons' are loving the Open.

“My husband and I are still brand new to CrossFit, but we signed up for the Open and we’re having a blast and making some big strides,” she says. “The Open is more intense, painful and inspiring than normal (workouts), but it is also fun at the same time. My husband and I just barely started doing Rx’d weights for some workouts, but we’re managing to participate in the Open. We can't wait to see how we do next year.”