At the CrossFit Games in 2016, Dana Askew-Harris and Mark Harris talked to CrossFit adaptive athlete Kevin Ogar. At that time, Ogar was still newly-injured, learning the best practices of working out from a wheelchair.
- “My husband talked to him and asked, ‘What do you need?’” Dana says. “He said, ‘I need something for my legs, because I’m bringing the barbell [down], and it’s hurting my legs.”
- Dana and Mark left the competition and went to their drawing board, creating the lap mat, a piece of equipment designed to protect seated athletes legs during training.
- And with that, Equip Products, one of the only adaptive athlete-devoted equipment manufacturers, was born.
The company: Dana and Mark officially incorporated in July of 2017 and now offer a wide range of equipment for people of differing abilities, with categories for seated athletes, the visually impaired, and athletes with varying upper extremity ability.
- The duo has collaborated with a handful of other manufacturers – Victory Grips, Concept 2, RX Smart Gear, and Rogue – working with them to make all exercises inclusive.
- Mark offers up the example of the Concept 2 SkiErg: Wheelchairs can’t slide up to the machine’s base because it’s not wide enough. Concept 2 gave Mark and Dana an unofficial blessing to create a wheelchair-friendly, wider platform, which has resulted in an ongoing partnership between the two, because “they were willing to let us work on this and make an inclusive product,” Mark says.
Their products: “Pretty much everything on our website and about 150 other items that we haven’t been able to market yet really happened because we started talking to the athletes,” Dana says.
- Listening to athletes is something both Mark and Dana take pride in. It’s how they come up with many of their products; Dana says they get around four or five requests from athletes a week, asking them to create specific equipment.
- “Sometimes, they’ll come to us, and other times, just watching competitions and stuff it’s like, man, there’s got to be a better way for them to work out like everybody else,” Dana says.
- Dana and Mark test all of their equipment on athletes – including some of the leading names in Adaptive training: Ogar, Alec Zirkenbach, Chris Stoutenburg, Logan Aldridge, to name a few – before they hit the market. “We’re already dealing with people who have challenges, the last thing we want to do is create more challenges for them with a bad product,” Mark says.
Visually impaired: This is one of Mark and Dana’s newer markets.
- It started with Kym Dekeyrel, a visually-impaired athlete who typically needs her husband to guide her through the workouts. Every time she had to put her hands on a barbell, Dekeyrel needed to have her husband place them.
- “Really, whatever the athletes do, they want to be independent,” Dana says.
- Mark and Dana developed straps to wrap around her barbell, so when she steps away from the barbell, she can come back, find her hand placement on the straps, and go.
- Dekeyrel can see contrast, and since most gym floors and walls are dark, they created a white jump rope and white wall ball, so she can have a better idea of where the equipment is.
Upper Extremity: Perhaps the best-known piece of equipment in their arsenal is the Aldridge Arm, a quick-release strap that gives single-arm athletes two points of contact during exercises like pull-ups, deadlifts, and so-on, designed for Logan Aldridge.
- “Logan was using a strap that was just a really small strap, and we were at an event with him and we sat there and said ‘Ok, let’s make it better,” Dana says.
- The Aldridge Arm is now a worldwide piece of equipment. Most recently, Dana and Mark adapted the strap for the Wounded Highlanders in Scotland.
- They’ve also designed a one-armed rowing attachment, which gives athletes the ability to pull with equal pressure on the rowing handle, and the mono rope, a four-foot, foldable rope that allows for single-arm jump roping.
- “It’s just fun to see people who haven’t been able to do anything… because of an injury they haven’t been able to get back into the gym, or maybe a birth defect that they’ve never been able to do something, and just to see their eyes light up when they pick up the barbell for the first time with two points of contact, versus just one,” says Dana.
Seated Athletes: “Our seated athletes are always coming with something,” Dana says.
- Along with the previously mentioned SkiErg base, Dana and Mark have created SkiErg handle extensions, allowing seated athletes to have a full range of motion when using the machine.
- Leg straps were another important creation. “You could [potentially] break bones by doing a pull-up or muscle up and not coming down and keeping your legs in an orderly fashion,” Mark explains. “So by putting their legs together with the padded strap, it keeps their legs in-line, so then your knee doesn’t bend the wrong way. Honestly… someone with a spinal cord injury, they wouldn’t even know they’re breaking a bone until it was too late.”
Another side of their product development is competition-specific. A notable creation is “the package,” brought to the duo by Stoutenburg, founder and head programmer of WheelWOD.
- “The package” is a cushioned box that fills with up to 50 pounds of water.
- “It’s functional because how many of those athletes actually get Amazon packages and stuff, and they gotta be able to pick them up?” Mark says.
The bottom line: This is the first year an adaptive division has been included in The Open, with CrossFit aiming to make 2021 the most accessible Open in history. Dana and Mark are making this a reality, catering to the athletes’ needs so that people of all abilities can workout.
- Mark puts it simply: “If we’re going to do for one, let’s do for all.”