Alec Zirkenbach on Finding a Place In Fitness
over 1 year ago
Our bodies were designed to be used. They are meant to move and stretch and flex and bend. While being active and resisting the urge to sit around all day can be enough of a challenge for the average individual, it is all the more difficult for those who have any sort of disability, handicap, or impairment. After his encounter with an injury and being essentially immobile for far too long, Alec Zirkenbach got to look into the life of what it was like to be disabled. His life shaped a path of servitude for those who are less fortunate of navigating physical hardship. Recognizing how little attention is given to those who are disabled, he also has seen how that has come hand in hand with so few accommodations being made in the fitness world.
Because of CrossFit
Alec Zirkenbach is a Navy Veteran and CrossFit enthusiast. He was born in Anchorage, Alaska, and was raised in Maryland. He was actively involved in lacrosse for most of his life, having gone on to play at Virginia Tech. It was there that he did Reserve Officers Training Corps. The day he graduated was the day he commissioned into the Navy. Though he had spent a great amount of time in this military branch, it was not a blissful experience. In 2009, his life took a turn that started to shape him into a very overlooked world in fitness. While doing operations off the coast of Somalia, Alec had his leg crushed between two ships. His leg snapped and he went far too long without receiving any treatment. Most of his soft tissue and nerves were saved. However, the main nerve going down to his foot died, and as a result, lost feeling in his foot. Screws and rods now hold Alec’s leg in place, and for nearly 8 months he was unable to walk. He was able to get around by whatever means he had available to him, but he was true without the use of his legs for nearly a year. Though he had the option to leave the Navy, he chose to stay and wound up working in a few different locations in the Middle East.
When the Whole Story Changed
In 2011, while in Kuwait, Alec was living on Camp Patriot and there Alec had trained in CrossFit by himself for a long while. However, he soon realized he wasn’t the only one familiar with CrossFit. “You recognize a CrossFitter pretty quick,” Alec explains in an interview with BUBS Naturals. He began training with his comrade. In time, it became a regular thing for them to get together once a day to train, along with others who were interested. This is how Alec had his first exposure to training people. He eventually went to Switzerland and got his Level One in CrossFit. “I look back,” explains Alec, “and I would be standing watch for five hours at a time…all I would do is print off every single CrossFit Journal,” explains Alec. “That CrossFit journal provided me…with knowledge and then I had to get the experience.” And so he did. Alec decided to open his own business with those who were injured in mind. Until its close in 2018, Fathom CrossFit served as a safe and effective place to provide training to those who were disabled. His time in the local naval hospital is what opened his eyes to the world of adaptive training, and was able to develop programs and methods through trial and error to establish the best approach. “There’s nothing like going to a CrossFit gym where the owners and the coaches really do care about the people coming in,” says Alec. “I think why there’s so many veterans in CrossFit gyms is because it provides community.” And Alec decided he wanted to bring that community to everyone who needed it, specifically the disabled.
A Growing Vision
In 2017, CrossFit saw what they were doing and asked for a specialty course. He had several knowledgeable individuals come on to work with him to “create [a] superpower team of athletes and coaches” to optimize their results. “I don’t know everything. I don’t have all the knowledge and experience,” Alec explains humbly. However, this humility clearly shows how adamant he is about making sure that the results are best as they can be. From 2017 to 2019, Alec worked directly with CrossFit Inc. running seminars for the company. In 2019, those courses became independent. They became the Adaptive Training Academy, which he is still running to this day as the executive director. Alec has since applied for the company to operate as a non-profit. “We’re doing that, because, providing education is good, providing education to trainers and to therapists to be able to work with people with disabilities is good, it gives them the tools and the baseline knowledge…but it’s not as effective as we need it to be.” Alec sees so much room for growth in this regard. “The people who need that training also have higher expenses,” he said, as well as numerous barriers in life. As a non-profit, they plan to provide the means, whatever that may be, to help gyms set up a program for those who have disabilities. This would include paying for coaches, equipment, and knowledge. Alec is making it his mission to change the game of adaptive training. He believes the timing of these efforts serves a purpose. Alec believes now is the time to show the world that adaptive training has a place in fitness. Because it is.