Inclusive CrossFit: A place where both able-bodied people and people with disabilities can train


Thanks to the Inclusive CrossFit initiative, people who use wheelchairs and those who do not train together at a gym in the city of Lida, Hrodna Region, Belarus.

Coach Viktor Zakharyev lifts himself up along with his wheelchair. He says that the total weight he lifts is about 90 kg: “Of course, you can lift just your weight if you like, but I prefer to do it with the wheelchair. I have been doing sports since childhood. After an injury that happened more than 20 years ago, I taught weightlifting. Later, I retrained as a master of sports in swimming. I am also an instructor in extreme sports, including downhill skiing.”

Viktor moved to Lida from Minsk in April this year: “I was invited by Sasha Avdevich, who came up with this initiative.”

The head of the Inclusive CrossFit project, Aleksandr Avdevich, who used to live in Lida, has done a lot to make life more comfortable for people with disabilities in the city. Thanks to cooperation between the Lida branch of the Republican Association of Wheelchair Users (PA RAWU) and local authorities, Lida is one of the most inclusive cities in the country, with a barrier-free environment.

The Inclusive CrossFit initiative is implemented by PA RAWU within the framework of the international technical assistance project “Prevention of non-communicable diseases, promotion of healthy lifestyles and support of the modernisation of the healthcare system in Belarus (BELMED)”, funded by the European Union.

According to Aleksandr Avdevich, about €20,000 was invested in gym equipment, another €5,000 was allocated to pay the coach's salary for the duration of the project.

Aleksandr Avdevich hopes that the project will not only enable people with disabilities to play sports for free, but will also change attitudes regarding disability in society. “I would like to reach a point where people with disabilities are perceived as equal, when a coach in a wheelchair is able to compete with other professionals,” he says.

Able-bodied people no longer consider a person in a wheelchair to be different. While the project continues, training sessions will remain free for everyone,” explains Viktor Zakharyev.

Tatyana Grintsevich, a horse trainer at the equestrian school, has been going to the gym to lose weight since it opened in April, and she has already achieved good results. “There are a lot of gyms in Lida, but I chose this one because they have a very good coach. We communicate with everyone; there are many different people with and without disabilities,” she says.

Yelena Nichipor, who uses a wheelchair and has also been at the gym since April, agrees: “Sasha Avdevich's mother called me and told me about the opening of the gym. I liked it from the moment I arrived, and now I go three times a week. I wanted to strengthen my arms and lose weight, and I have achieved both of these goals.”

Yelena lives alone in a ground floor apartment, which has a ramp, so she manages without a lift. She receives assistance from a social worker, which costs her a little less than 5 Belarusian roubles (€2.15) a month. “I need help taking out the bins and going to the shop in the winter, for example. If there is a lot of snow, I cannot get out,” Yelena explains. “I hope I can somehow go to the gym to do CrossFit.”

Viktor Zakharyev says that CrossFit is gaining popularity in Lida: “Our gym is small – no more than six people can train at a time.” The coach says that, these days, a healthy body is preferable to huge muscles; therefore, he considers CrossFit more useful than strength training alone, for example.

“The main goal of the training is to increase endurance,” he says. “This happens not with the use of heavy weights, but by increasing the duration of the lesson and having a short rest break. This is a type of circuit training. We have cardio exercises (such as jump rope and rowing machines), weightlifting and gymnastics.”

According to the coach, it is important for everyone to do sports, and for a person with a disability even more so: “People using wheelchairs face particular problems. A sedentary lifestyle causes circulatory disorders”

Viktor has been very impressed with the barrier-free environment in Lida, which allows people in wheelchairs to move around the town without their own car. If booked in advance, a public minibus will even collect a wheelchair user directly from their house.

The project will end in December, when Viktor will return to Minsk. He has big plans. Currently, he is still participating in Denis Vasilevich's “Special Approach” project, which won the social projects competition. Soon, people with disabilities will be able to ski, kayak, go tubing and stand up paddle surfing.

The gym in Lida will also work with the local Children’s and Youth School for the Olympic Reserve, to allow young people with disabilities to attend classes for free.

A replacement coach has not yet been identified, but perhaps Viktor could be replaced by Yevgeniy Ungur. Training in the gym helped Yevgeniy to get in good physical shape. “I’ve lost centimetres from my waist, and I feel better. I used to get tired when I was moving around the city – now it is much easier,” he says.

Yevgeniy hopes that the gym will remain open, and that both able-bodied and disabled people will continue to train there.

Author: Yelena Spasyuk

The article is published in Russian by