February 15, 2012
A Stronger Mother: Rio Landa
By Shelby Levy

Rio Landa had no idea how much CrossFit would help her in caring for her son, Mateo. Not only does he inspire her to get through a grueling wokrout, but the physical strength she is building is necessary to move and manage the 2-year-old as he battles spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) -- a disease that cripples the muscular system.

Landa, 25, of World Camp CrossFit in Georgia finished 21st in the South East Regional in 2011 and hopes for a return trip. Her training for the Open, which she juggles with nursing school and caring for Mateo, often consists of things like running with him in a jog stroller or doing handstand push-ups in her kitchen while Mateo looks on.
She began CrossFit shortly before Mateo’s diagnosis, but it was attending a Families of SMA conference in California where she began to appreciate how much CrossFit would help her in caring for her child. 
 “I was so happy that I found CrossFit so that I would be strong enough to carry Mateo"

Rio at the 2011 South East Regional

Strong Enough to Support Her Son

“A mother there was telling a story about how she couldn’t carry her 6-year-old around or get him out of the tub because she wasn’t strong enough,” she says. “I was so happy that I found CrossFit so that I would be strong enough to carry Mateo, and have the proper body mechanics to do so.”  

Mateo, who will be 3 in March, was diagnosed as a 1-year-old after his parents noticed he was not meeting developmental milestones. SMA is the No. 1 genetic killer of children under the age of 2, and there is no treatment or cure. It is an inherited and often fatal disease that destroys the nerves controlling voluntary muscle movement affecting crawling, walking, head and neck control, and swallowing. Intellectual activity is normal in people with SMA, and they are often found to be unusually bright and sociable. 
Mateo is confined to a special wheelchair, and precautions must be taken so he does not catch a cold or other illnesses that may compromise his breathing. “Everything I do revolves around Mateo. Can he go? Can he do? Is he healthy enough?” Landa says. “For trips and travel, will he need equipment? Will there be other kids there that are sick? Is everything handicapped accessible?” 
Recently, Mateo spent almost four weeks in a hospital out of town due to respiratorysyncytial virus (RSV) and pneumonia. Landa found herself doing workouts at the hospital such as running up flights of stairs, mixed with push-ups in the hallway.  Mateo is back home and Landa has been able to resume her training at World Camp, where Mateo is loved by its members.  
Last year, Landa started a Georgia chapter of Families of SMA, an organization with a goal to bring awareness and provide fundraising to aid in research for the disease. She immediately thought CrossFit would be a great resource for raising money and created a special workout in honor of Mateo. Other gyms were approached about hosting a fundraiser using his workout. 
“Mateo” consists of a 400-meter run, followed by six rounds of three ground-to-overhead (155/115), six bar-facing burpees, nine chest-to-bar pullups, ending with another 400-meter run. Ten gyms participated and raised more than $5,000. 
“Sometimes you feel like you are too tired or too lazy or you think, ‘I can’t do this because it is too hard,’” Landa admits. “There are a lot of kids out there who can’t even lift their hand or feed themselves. I thought this would be a motivator for others to be the best you can be.”  
Landa is already planning to hold the Families of SMA fundraiser again this June and hopes for more involvement from CrossFit gyms around the world. Visit www.smaworkoutforacause.blogspot.com for more information or to participate.