The Veterans filed into The Tribe Strength and Conditioning gym in San Antonio, Texas, looking a bit apprehensive after seeing the straps, rings and pull-up bars hanging over jump boxes and 35-pound plates. They began wondering what they had signed up for. What they did sign up for was the 2021 National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic at HOME event – an adaptation of the in-person clinic held annually since 2008.
The annual event is normally hosted by the VA San Diego Healthcare System, but it was adapted to comply with COVID-19 safety requirements.
The Army Veteran trio of Michael Trevino, Bobby Marshall and Alex Shiver wanted to try their hand (and their bodies) at CrossFit, a lifestyle characterized by safe, effective exercise.
Safe exercise is one of the activities provided by South Texas Veterans Health Care System recreation therapists. “I did host a lot of physical activities, especially when COVID first kind of happened,” said Brittney Mora, recreation therapist. “I did a lot of virtual fitness classes and finding adaptations, finding modifications, so they can still get a great workout at home or in this case, they come here, which is great.”
The clinic is just one of many events recreation therapists offer.
The Veterans were put at ease by gym owner Nick Vera, who thanked them for their service and began explaining what CrossFit was all about.
He brought them over to the workout wall, a massive whiteboard with CrossFit scores, numbers, acronyms and workout terms.
“All the stuff I mentioned at the beginning of class still applies,” Vera said. “Make sure you control the intensity of your workout.”
Vera explained that although CrossFit is a group activity and a score is written on the board, everyone has a different capacity and will score different. He stressed the real purpose: every participant walks away with a great workout.
Rowing machines came with risks… for more exercise
Marshall jumped in with both feet, beginning with the warmup which was work shrouded in a game of precision. The Veterans hit the rowing machines and were asked to do reps of 100 meters.
The catch was that if their boats went over or under 100, they owed crunches or squats. A proposition that brought laughter to Marshall.
Marshall is no stranger to hard work. He already has a home gym and stationary bike that he uses daily. Although he has been with the South Texas VA for more than 25 years, he said working out has helped him tremendously throughout his recovery.
“You need to do something,” he said. “I used to feel mad and angry with the military and stuff like that. Don’t let that take over your life. Just get out there and try to do something. I think that’s what the program did for me.”
COVID-19 has put additional stress on these Veterans who participate in recreation therapy activities. The Recreation Therapy Service adjusted their delivery as have most South Texas clinics by offering virtual sessions.
Chance to get out of the house is “great”
“They really enjoyed themselves, and we hope they continue to pursue their interests,” said Tania DeLeon, recreation therapy supervisor.
“A lot of them had a hard time staying in their homes and we have offered virtual programming, but things like this where they can get out in the community and really enjoy themselves and find different ways to stay active is great.”
That was exactly Veteran Michael Trevino’s sentiment.
“I think it’s good with the camaraderie,” he said. “It’s strangers, but over time, we’re all in this together as one.”
That camaraderie was put to the test as the Veterans operated as a unit, working through a series of wind bike, box squats and medicine ball throws. They completed the circuit, passed the baton to their partner, and encouraged them along the way – just like a battle buddy system.
Alex Shiver is new to CrossFit and South Texas VA. “I’m from New York, but the program in New York and the program here is like day and night,” he said. “And here is unbelievable. I give credit to San Antonio VA for all these programs.”
The clinic is just one of the many events supported by recreation therapy that recreation therapists offer.
“The great opportunity VA has offered us is to do Virtual Video Connect,” DeLeon said. “We have been doing things from fitness classes to art to leisure education. All sorts of different activities, but I know some them are wanting to get out.”
If you want to participate, ask you primary care provider how you can get involved.