"People not only understand what I do, but they also saw how hard I work."
Photos courtesy of Armando Toledo.
“If I can learn to speak, read and write, then I can teach and help others to do just about anything,” Steph Hammerman said.
The 24-year-old from Davie, Fla., was born with a mild case of cerebral palsy that impairs her balance and motor skills. Doctors told her parents Hammerman would never speak, read or write, but over the years she’s proved them wrong.
Today, she can read, write, work out and coach. After interning at CrossFit Rubicon in Virginia, Hammerman received her Level 1 Certificate last June, which made her the first CrossFit Level 1 coach with cerebral palsy. Now, she coaches at CrossFit Conquest.
She admits coaching can be tricky. As an athlete, she conditions her body to do a movement as her body allows it to be done. But as a coach, she must teach the movements as they should be done.
“I have to do the workout one way and then turn around and coach the workout in a completely different way,” she said.
“In CrossFit, my most frequent adaptations are doing all of the lifting movements from a kneeling position, completing squat and jumping movements with the assistance of a support bar, and scaling to a manageable weight.”
She insists this never becomes a point of frustration because she “loves the nature of coaching.”
“I will never be frustrated that one person can do something that I cannot,” she said.
If that were the case, she would have quit a long time ago, she said. She sets her sights on helping people achieve things they did not think were possible.
Jon Coddaire and Donivan Ciolfi, the owners of CrossFit Conquest, helped her overcome the challenges of competing and coaching with CP.
Coddaire admits that when he first met Hammerman, he thought, ‘How can she coach CrossFit?’
After a few short weeks of shadowing Coddaire and Ciolfi, Hammerman’s unique method of explaining movements to members became apparent. Since she cannot demonstrate some movements herself, she has become particularly good at describing what the athlete needs to do.
“She is one of the best double-under coaches we have, but she has never done a double-under,” Coddaire said. "She creates a better mental picture of the movement than anyone I have met."
Although she must adapt many of her movements, she cherishes any opportunity to compete and views it as a chance to “compete with, not against, others.”
“I may not be able to do every workout as prescribed, but my effort will always be as prescribed,” she said.
She has recently appeared in several fitness competitions in the South East, and competed in front of large crowds.
After successfully cleaning 40 lb., an 8-lb. personal best, in front of hundreds of people, Hammerman said she found a new level of confidence.
“People not only understood what I do, but they also saw how hard I work,” she said. “It is human nature to look at a difficult set of circumstances and feel sympathy, but on a daily basis, in CrossFit, everyone is enduring difficult circumstances.”
Because of her love of competition, she decided to register for the Open, despite the fact that the first workout is unknown and may be outside the reach of her current abilities.
Like last year, she plans on coming up with strategies for the workouts with the help of other adaptive athletes.
"As adaptive athletes we may not be able to go to the Games right now but that doesn't mean as a community we don't attempt the Open. Just like any other athlete I love hearing the announcement each week," she said.
"The CrossFit community is already very close but the Open is an experience that brings our smaller community even closer. I know many adaptive athletes with different needs are going to look at the work out the same way I do and that's the most fun. We cheer each other on and support each other ... I'm excited to see what 14.1 has in store for us."