At age 29, Steph Hammerman has done more than anyone ever envisioned for her. She was born with cerebral palsy, and her doctors never expected her to walk, talk, or write. Led by her unassailable positivity, she has spent her life fighting against the weak prognosis and expectations. In fact, she has dedicated her life to exceeding the expectations of those around her.
Steph’s determination to exceed expectations began early in life. As child, she not onlylearned to read and write with proficiency, but also went to sleep away camp. In school, she not only graduated, but went on to earn her Master’s degree.
As for being told she would never walk, Steph surpassed the odds and did so much more. She crushed the odds when she found CrossFit. She found that not only could she complete the workouts, but her passion led to become an instructor.
In Pursuit of Fitness
Steph first tried CrossFit in 2012 in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. No stranger to a challenge, Steph was drawn to CrossFit because of the camaraderie in the classes. She said,
“It was just this really cool atmosphere of acceptance everywhere. It didn’t matter who you are or your ability or skill level-you accomplished something after a workout.”
Within two years of taking up CrossFit, Steph became the first CrossFit Level 2 certified trainer with cerebral palsy. From there, she dreamed of opening her own gym.
Her dreams were disrupted when she received a diagnosis of stage 3B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2016. Surprising no one but herself, Steph showed no sign of cancer after only 7 of her prescribed 29 treatment sessions. She says she got a “third chance” at life.
A Nike Athlete with Cerebral Palsy
After nonchalantly beating Stage 3 cancer, this remarkable young woman didn’t miss a beat in her lifelong mission to exceed. In 2017, Nike offered her a contract as their first officially sponsored adaptive athlete as a result of her sharing positive feedback with the company about a brand of their sneakers that wore well with her movement on crutches.
Now an inspiration to adaptive athletes nationwide, Steph wants to give confidence to other athletes who have fitness goals. To those she inspires, she says, “You are not an adaptive athlete- you’re an athlete who happens to have adaptive needs.”
In 2018, Steph, who sometimes goes by the nickname “The Hammer,” started her own CrossFit gym in North Carolina called Hammer Driven Fitness. The mission of Hammer Driven Fitness is to “Educate, Motivate and Improve the lives of every person that enters the facility.” For Steph, her own life is just the beginning.
Fitness and Cerebral Palsy
Though her story is a extraordinary success, Steph Hammerman’s pursuit of fitness is a good example of the benefits of exercise for anyone with cerebral palsy. The American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine recommends an adapted exercise routine for adults and children with cerebral palsy to build muscle strength and cardio-respiratory fitness. Exercise can help individuals with cerebral palsy:
- Improve muscle fitness
- Improve joint range of motion
- Improve heart health
Athletes with cerebral palsy will have to modify activities to meet their individual needs. They will likely have to start at a basic level and slowly increase intensity to build strength, but even the slowest progress and the most incremental improvement is so much better than no exercise at all.
Tips for Beginning an Exercise Program with Cerebral Palsy
If you or a loved one has cerebral palsy and are considering starting an exercise program, here are some tips for getting started:
- Consult with a physician before you begin.
- Ask your physician or pharmacist to review your medications, as some prescription drugs may be incompatible with certain exercise programs.
- Find an exercise environment you like. In a class? Alone at home? With a personal trainer? Choose the one that seems like the most fun for you.
- Set a reasonable goal. People of all abilities have difficulty starting and sticking to new exercise programs, but those that succeed are those who start achieving small goals and then challenge themselves more.
- Start slowly. In the beginning, you may only be able to sustain a few minutes of aerobic activity. Don’t be discouraged. You have to start somewhere.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects the brain and motor function. A dormant or damaged portion in the brain results in partial or complete muscle paralysis. About 8,000 to 10,000 infants born each year will be diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Though doctors do not understand everything about this disorder, there are some known causes:
- 1 in 10 infants with cerebral palsy experienced a lack of oxygen during birth that caused brain damage.
- Maternal infections and high blood pressure can also cause brain damage to unborn babies. Doctors should closely monitor mothers during pregnancy to manage any complications before harming the baby.
- Improper or lack of monitoring fetal heartbeat during labor and delivery.
- Failure to perform a needed C-section in a timely manner.
- Improper use of delivery assistance tools such as forceps or vacuum extractors.
- Failure to provide oxygen to an infant who asphyxiated during delivery.
Can Cerebral Palsy be Prevented?
Steph Hammerman’s story is one of success and indomitable spirit. For many children with cerebral palsy, their diagnosis means a life of near-total disability and pain. There is no way to foresee when one medical mistake could alter the course of a child’s life forever, and there is certainly no way to tell how severe any resulting paralysis may be.
While there is no certain way to prevent cerebral palsy, there are some things that parents can do to reduce the risk, such as:
- Seek regular prenatal care. Maternal complications can have a wide range of consequences for babies, therefore, moms should be monitored for safety.
- Stay up to date on vaccinations. Mothers with rubella or chicken pox during pregnancy increase the risk of cerebral palsy for their infants.
- Practice good hand washing to prevent viral infections.
- Request your doctor to test your blood type if you’re unsure of your type. Rh incompatibility between you and your baby can cause cerebral palsy.
Get the Best Resources for Your Family
At Birth Injury Guide, we love reading and sharing stories about individuals who have overcome obstacles. No matter what the cause, cerebral palsy is a difficult condition, and families deserve the best resources and support possible.
We salute Ms. Hammerman for overcoming not only her adaptive setbacks, but also cancer, to become a trailblazer before the age of 30. She is truly an inspiration to any child with cerebral palsy who dreams of being an entrepreneur.
If your child has cerebral palsy, get access to the best resources by browsing Birth Injury Guide. If you need legal assistance, or believe that your child’s cerebral palsy was caused by a birth injury or medical negligence, Birth Injury Guide can help. Contact us by filling out our online form, or call 1-877-415-6603.