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The Power Hour at CrossFit Candor

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by Jamie Cormier


A few months ago, we implemented a weekly “Power Hour” to help special needs children locally. One of our members, Vera Spinks, has a daughter named Kylie who has Cerebral Palsy. We were inspired by others in the CrossFit Community thriving despite physical restrictions. So, in hopes of improving Kylie’s quality of life, among other things, we started doing CrossFit with her once a week.



Because we all felt so empowered after those 60 minutes, we named this time “Power Hour”.  Once we got the hang of it, we began to add more children to Power Hour. Every two weeks, a member of our box becomes a coach to a new child for Power Hour. We work hard towards their goals using CrossFit movements modified to their current abilities. Many of these children would love to walk one day, but could not stand with heavy support on their first night. Kylie, who is very close to standing with no support, could not support her weight our first time together. With the help of some University of Alabama wheelchair basketball players who understand her plight, she’s on the cusp of walking, holding the back of a basketball wheelchair as she goes. Her goal is in sight.



Bradley, Cooper, Hank, and Hayden are the current boys of our group. While they differ in ages and current abilities, each brings his own strengths to Power Hour. Seven year-old Bradley has amazing core strength and his feet, though they are the size of an NBA superstar, are walking in a walker, ready to run. Four year-old Cooper is the life of the party. His spirit and laughter is contagious, and with Power Hour he is now standing from a seated position and walking for the first time! Fifteen-year-old Hank walked the length of our 40+ foot rig, his longest unassisted walk ever. He does burpees for reps that will blow your mind with their intensity, and he works harder than any athlete in our box. Hayden has this natural strength you feel and see the first time you meet him. His body is ready to walk, and his compliant, work-hard spirit is bringing him there.



We are so inspired by these Power Hour Athletes. Whatever small amount of help we are giving them, we are paid in joy and inspiration. We have the CrossFit Candor Community to thank. This is at no cost to the families, and no coach receives payment for their services. Yet, every week you’ll find University of Alabama students, parents with children, singles and couples choosing to spend their evenings at Power Hour. With the help of med balls, barbells, rings and Rogue bars for support, we are paving the way together towards independence and strength.   Isn’t this what CrossFit is truly about? Stronger, faster, more able to live a functional life and loving on each other as we work. We have no prior experience and are simply learning as we go. I believe that any CrossFit Box could implement their own Power Hour with amazing success. Please feel free to contact us for any help if you’d like to set up a Power Hour of your own!


Have a story to share about a cognitive program at your gym? Send it to chris@crossfitbrain.com.

Concussions And Your Gym

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We began our work with TBI clients in 2010.

At first, these were all victims of single-event catastrophes: car crashes, falls, or being struck by a hard object. Some of these clients are now back to work, and most still do CrossFit. Dozens of others have been through our workouts since, with funding from social service agencies or auto insurance.

But concussions cause the same long-term effects. Usually, the depression, anxiety, memory loss and cognitive problems take awhile to become obvious, but they’re no less severe. Though the effect is the same as a tree falling on your head, no one gets too worked up about concussions in sport because the results aren’t immediately obvious.

Only years later are the effects of concussion traumatic. Severe brain damage caused by repeated smaller blows has been the cause of abuse, suicides, drug use, social withdrawal…all the things you’d expect from someone hit over the head with a bat. And kids in YOUR town are suffering concussions every day.

“Concussion-proof” helmets don’t work, and professional leagues are at a loss to calm parents’ fears of hurting their kids’ brains. The NFL’s “Heads Up Football” stresses helmet use at age six; John Madden believes kids should learn to play without helmets first. Doctors aren’t instructed on concussion diagnosis: consider the Canadian concussion diagnosis guidelines here. If a kid isn’t brought into the ER unconscious or with visible bleeding, there’s a good chance they won’t be diagnosed with a concussion. Even an athlete with a severe concussion might never lose consciousness, and returning to play too early will greatly compound the injury. This is scary.

In 2012, we launched ConcussionPro in our city. The goal was threefold:

1. Help coaches determine when a concussion has occurred;

2. Help doctors determine the severity of concussions, and give educated return-to-play orders;

3. Bring new athletes into our gym to talk about vestibular training and prehabilitation.

Though we were only using the SCAT3 test to take baseline measurements, prominent researchers told us this method was more relevant than any advanced diagnostic test, because it provided a cognitive comparison: how smart was the athlete yesterday? Is he back to “normal” yet?

Since then, the ConcussionPro program has rapidly evolved to provide a better service. At the request of overworked doctors (most of whom readily admit they aren’t comfortable providing return-to-play guidelines) and parents, our new service guides the athlete through the recovery stages. Here’s how it works:

1. Baseline testing, including both physical tests (like the O’Neill and Stroop tests) before the season.

2. If a concussion is suspected during a game, athletes are tested using the SCAT test (developed by the IOC and freely available to everyone here.) If they show any sign of concussion, they’re pulled from the game and told to book a follow-up assessment with us.

3. Stage 1 assessment. Athletes complete a simple rowing, balance and memory test. If they score within 10% of their baseline level, they book their Stage 2 assessment. If not, they wait 48 hours before trying again. They’re also given a tracking log (available here) to record daily symptoms.

4. Stage 2 assessment. Athletes complete a more challenging physical agility test, another balance test, and a tougher cognitive test. If they score within 10% of their baseline, they book their Stage 3 assessment. If not, they rest 48 hours before trying again.

5. Stage 3 assessment. A higher-level physical skills test, followed by more challenging cognitive tests. If they score within 10% of their baseline, they book their Stage 4 assessment. If not, they rest 48 hours before trying again.

6. Stage 4 assessment. This is challenging, but a ‘pass’ (score within 10% of baseline) will indicate the athlete is ready to return to non-contact practice. A ‘pass’ means the athlete can book an appointment with their doctor; we fax all results to the doctor’s office.

Our fee for the baseline test is currently $70; retesting is free (each level takes about 10 minutes with a coach.) ANY GYM can be taught to do these tests; there’s no requirement for a registered healthcare professional (AT, OT, or Physio.) A local college has already taken the template and begun teaching our baseline process as part of their OTA/PTA curriculum. Local doctors are referring parents; parents are referring coaches. As one parent recently posted on facebook:

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The real benefit comes by removing subjectivity from the process. Parents see progress and don’t press anyone to speed up return-to-play time. Coaches aren’t required to balance athlete safety against athlete eagerness (or wins and losses.) And doctors don’t have to guess.

Gyms can create their own testing criteria; we’ll make ours available as an online learning module soon. In the meantime, gyms can host seminars for local coaches to teach the SCAT3 test. Invite a healthcare expert and link parents and coaches with your gym as the host. Read everything you can, and put information in the hands of your young athletes.


To Dance With His Daughter

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For Steven Ritza, CrossFit isn’t about Fran times and deadlift PRs.

Ritza, 61, was active in a host of sports until he had a stroke about four and a half years ago. Suddenly, his lifestyle changed and it became a task just to get out of bed. Ritza has been training with Tyler Belanger at CrossFit Catalyst in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. For about a year, and he’s been working hard to regain capacity and improve his life.

The challenges are more than just physical. An engineer by trade, Ritza now struggles with words and numbers, and he admits it can be very depressing. Stroke recovery, he explains, takes you right back to grade-school activities.

“It drives you nuts because you know that your capacity for doing this stuff is way beyond that, but you’re stuck where you are,” he says.

With CrossFit, Ritza has regained his sense of balance and now has the confidence to pick things up, but his main goal was walking his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.

“You’ve got to look at those things and say, ‘Well, is the effort worth it?’ And it is worth it,” he says.

Ritza has another daughter, and he plans to walk her down the aisle, too.

Coaching Kids With Special Needs

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For Tyler Belanger, coaching special kids is about allowing them to live without limitations.

At CrossFit Catalyst in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., the coach works with an almost non-verbal, functioning autistic boy.

“Does he understand what is actually being said, and pitch and tone of voice? Probably not,” Belanger explains. “But we can’t really tell either. What we know is that he really enjoys when people smile, and he doesn’t like when people frown.”

Belanger says the experience has made him a better coach.

“Now I’ve got a huge vocabulary and language for breaking things down, and (I’m always) being mindful … that we’re starting with the basics,” he says. “I understand now that I can’t skip steps.”

Carl Kennedy is another one of Belanger’s athletes. Carl had trouble focusing in high school. Whenever a teacher asked for corrections, he reacted by biting his arm or ripping up a book.

He’s had to fight to overcome these challenges, but he says he’s up to the task.

“I fought hard to get into school,” Kennedy says, “I fought hard to go to CrossFit, I fought hard to get on the football team, I fought hard for every aspect of my life that people take for granted.”

Kennedy now has goals, including making the first string on the football team.

“I know what I want now, and I’m going to get it,” he says.