These change makers are shifting the way we think about what it means to be fit.
After Marilyn Cruz suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2005, she struggled for years to return to the active life she’d always known. Her lingering symptoms — foggy memory, fatigue, loss of coordination — left her feeling disconnected from her body, her past, even her identity.
“I woke up every day and had to reintroduce myself to my own life,” she explains. “I didn’t have resources to turn to for help. It was very isolating.”
About five years into her recovery, Cruz found her way back to the gym. She can still recall how her first post-TBI workout helped her feel at home in her body and mind again.
By 2014 Cruz was devising a plan to open her own gym. During her research, she stumbled upon a CrossFit video featuring an Army veteran who introduced himself as a TBI survivor and an adaptive athlete.
“I thought, Is this me?” Cruz recalls. “Am I an adaptive athlete?”
That September, Cruz cofounded I Am Adaptive, the resource she wished she’d had when she began her recovery. The nonprofit organization works to educate, socialize, and mobilize adaptive athletes: trauma survivors, injured veterans, and anyone who needs to approach movement differently.
“These people don’t need to feel limited,” she explains. “They need to be empowered.”
Cruz hopes the term “adaptive” will eventually replace words like “handicapped” and “disabled.” I Am Adaptive has other goals, too, including suicide prevention and legislative advocacy for veterans and trauma survivors.
Social media has helped turn that mission into a global movement. People reach out via Twitter and Facebook looking for adaptation-friendly gyms or advice on posttrauma fitness. On Instagram, followers share photos of their own success stories, united under #IAmAdaptive.
“I wanted to create a community where people could come to be inspired and feel less alone, because we are all adaptive,” she says. “Every being on this planet has adaptive qualities. It’s how we survive.