- Associated Press - Saturday, February 11, 2017

MONTICELLO, Ill. (AP) - Casey Acree didn’t start CrossFit to become famous or even to be a role model for other adaptive athletes.

But if that’s what happens, he’ll take it.

Acree just liked to work out. But as he got stronger and faster, and developed more and better ways to perform CrossFit tasks despite being born without part of his left arm, Acree decided to try competition.

Acree had already made CrossFit a career. A 2011 Sangamon Valley grad, Acree earned both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Exercise Science from Eastern Illinois University and recently began working as a CrossFit coach at Kirby Medical Center in Monticello.

But after qualifying for and winning his division at Wodapalooza - a national fitness festival in Miami with a CrossFit competition - Acree is suddenly more than just a CrossFit coach. He’s not sure what’s next, but his performance established him as a competitor on the national level.

“I’m just going to see where it takes me,” Acree said.

A birth defect left Acree without a lower left arm just below the elbow. But Acree was otherwise healthy and developed into an outstanding high school athlete at Sangamon Valley. He never let what he didn’t have be an excuse, instead focusing on what he did have - a combination of speed, strength and heart that made him a starter in football and basketball, and a state medal winner in track.

After high school Acree still found he liked to compete, work out and stay in shape. He lifted. He ran. But nothing was filling the void.

“I did a couple of years where I was running 5Ks and long-distance running, then I got into weightlifting and bodybuilding, but I honestly just got bored with some of that stuff,” Acree said. “It wasn’t interesting or exciting to me.”

Acree had first experienced CrossFit in high school through athletic trainer Jim Martinez. CrossFit is a fitness regimen established in 2000 by Greg Glassman in which athletes perform a variety of, as Acree put it: “Constantly varied functional movement performed at a high intensity.”

CrossFit exercises are wide-ranging, but mostly mix weights, gymnastics and cardiovascular. Activities can include: Olympic-style weightlifting, squatting, deadlifting, kettlebells, medicine ball movements, pullups, pushups, rope climbing, burpees, jumping on boxes, running, rowing, biking, swimming and jumping rope.

“There’s no set structure,” Acree said. “You have to be prepared for all different types of things.”

In 2007, the CrossFit games were established and the sport has steadily grown in popularity. When Acree was introduced to it in high school, he hadn’t figured out ways to modify the workouts to what he was capable of doing. But as he was looking for something different than running and lifting while in college, he rediscovered CrossFit.

The challenge for adaptive athletes in CrossFit is there’s no one-size-fits-all modification. Every adaptive athlete has different challenges and has to find their own ways to overcome them.

Fortunately for Acree, that’s his specialty. Going back to the days where he first learned to tie his shoes and cut up his food, Acree has adapted. He trained himself in CrossFit exercises via Internet research and YouTube, then began using trial and error to figure out the best ways for him to complete the exercises.

“There would be a movement I wasn’t able to do, or wasn’t able to do to the fullest benefit, and I would just play with it until I figured it out,” Acree said. “Once I got one movement mastered, I’d move on to the next. I used to have a laundry list of movements I needed to find adaptations for. Now I’m basically down to one.”

A breakthrough, particularly when it came to weightlifting and pullups, came when he found a canvas strap in his friend’s garage.

“I started with a strap I found in a gym that I tinkered with, but it wasn’t optimal,” Acree said. “But I was working out with a friend of mine in his garage and there was this Razor scooter laying around from when he was a kid. It had a canvas strap hooked to it so you could sling it over your shoulder and carry it around. I started messing with it and realized if I got it to a certain length, I could double it around a barbell or pullup bar and use it for those movements I hadn’t been able to do very well. I still, to this day, use a Razor scooter strap for a lot of those movements.”

Acree uses an old strap from a Razor scooter to aid him with certain movements while lifting weights.

Acree said the more he got into CrossFit, the more it enveloped his life. He liked the challenge of the workouts and wanted to make a career of it.

“I could not only work with the general population - people rehabbing injuries or who have had heart attacks - I could help them improve their health and the functionality in their lives, and I could also work with athletes,” Acree said. “I had an interest in both.”

As Acree was training athletes, he was also training himself. If he gave an elite athlete a workout, he also tried to do it himself, and found he was more than capable.

“I love working out, for whatever reason - I like the pain and suffering of it,” Acree said. “I continued to add more and more, to the point I was working out two or three times a day.

“I got to the point where I said: I’m going to train like a competitor and if competition ever comes, I’ll be prepared.”

Acree put some videos of his workouts online that gained attention and people began encouraging him to compete. He began submitting his workout scores to the CrossFit Games Open.

Acree joined some other adaptive athletes at a team competition in Dayton, Ohio, in September and beat several able-bodied teams. Then Acree turned his attention to Wodapalooza (WOD is CrossFit lingo for “workout of the day”).

Wodapalooza began as a small, regional fitness festival in Miami but in its six years has grown into a national event with 1,500 competitors and 20,000 spectators. Acree qualified in October and competed Jan. 13-15 in the adaptive standing RX men’s division. In his first time competing in an event of its scale, Acree won all seven events. The competitor he defeated, Jose Sanchez, was the defending champion and is nationally known with big-name sponsors.

Among the spectators were Kirby CEO Steve Tenhouse and his family, Kirby Director of Health and Wellness Josh Newton, Acree’s cousin Rob Moeller and girlfriend Paxton Campbell, along with her parents.

While Acree surprised much of the crowd in Miami, he was confident and so was his boss, Newton.

Casey is a great athlete, but great athletes are a dime a dozen,” Newton said. “He trains hard. Most people just won’t put in the work he puts in. That what makes him successful, and that’s why I wasn’t surprised at all he won.”

The win has caught Acree attention he wasn’t necessarily expecting.

“The competition side . it’s all happened kind of fast,” Acree said. “I’ve had a few people show interest as far as sponsorships. That would be a great opportunity, but since I’m still new, it’s a work in progress. It’s a matter of getting out there and getting seen, but it’s definitely a possibility.”

Acree, though, isn’t in it for the fame. He said his focus will remain on his job as a coach - “Right now, the competition side is still a hobby,” Acree said. “My biggest goal is getting my training methods out there and letting athletes see that my programming is really solid.”

But, Acree said, he’d love to be part of getting more exposure for adaptive athletes.

“I’d love it if we can give a young kid who doesn’t think they’re going to be able to do these types of things in their life a visual and a belief that if they’re determined and they can find ways to persevere, they can do everything someone else can,” Acree said. “We’re still trying to legitimize the adaptive CrossFit competition realm, but it’s growing. The more competitions we do and the more people see us, the more the sport can grow and the more someone who may be missing a limb or have some type of issue can be inspired to get a gym membership and raise their quality of life.”

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/2ktewPE

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Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com


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