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Disabilities don’t stop at Lead The Way Crossfit
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Michael Santiago debuted his Lead the Way Crossfit gym in April 2018. Since its opening, Santiago uses his gym to prove that limitations don’t exist when it comes to accomplishing something worth doing.

Santiago and his family have been located in Hinesville since 1999. Before beginning Crossfit, Santiago spent four years in the United States Army, where he suffered a T-6 spinal cord injury from a gunshot wound, which spurred the loss of use of his left arm, and the loss of his left leg.

“I lived with the injury for 10 years,” Santiago said. “It caused me to be depressed. Because of Crossfit, I got out of that big depression. It saved me and my family from that mental negativity, and I became a better husband and father because of it.”

Santiago attended a Crossfit class with his teenage son, and realized that he wanted to become part of the Crossfit community, he said. The way his son looked solidified his desire to learn and participate.

“Because of Crossfit, I spend more time with my son, I got better mobility,” Santiago said. “I think a lot of people can benefit from it. Just because its Crossfit and a gym, it’s completely different from other gyms.”

Santiago said that it’s been a challenge to coach and teach others Crossfit, but it was a challenge he embraced.

After working at another gym for a year beforehand, Santiago said that it wasn’t creating a different community of people like he desired, so he left to find something that would. Santiago started his gym with three people at his house, helping train them in his driveway. Those three people grew to 10, and Santiago encountered an issue with the city, so he started looking for a building.

“We found out on a Friday, and that Saturday and Sunday, we drove around looking for spaces and we found this one,” he said. “It wasn’t planned, there was no idea, it was just spontaneous.”

Crossfit enables every one of all fitness levels to participate in the workouts, Santiago continued. The workouts are adapted to different skill levels. Some people may be doing squats without assistance, some may be using a bench, Santiago said. Either way, people still do a variation of the same workout at the same time.

Lead the Way Crossfit currently has 29 members, and Santiago is the coach and program coordinator, having earned his Level 1 Crossfit in 2015. He said he started coaching in 2016 and shortly after earned his Level 2 Crossfit. He’s been coaching for two years.

“For myself, I will do the same movements as everyone else, except with one hand,” Santiago said. “There are some movements I can’t do, like pull-ups, but the equipment we use helps to get a similar motion to traditional exercise. Most of the movements I’m able to do, and it’s the same as someone coming in with a lower fitness level. We adapt the same exercises to fit the person.”

As both an athlete and coach, Santiago has participated in multiple Crossfit competitions, including an adaptive athletes competition in Washington, DC, and between eight or nine regular Crossfit competitions.

“The adaptive athletes competition is athletes with a physical or mental disability competing, specialized to accommodate them,” Santiago said. “As for the normal competitions, as long as I don’t come in last, I know that I did better than someone without a disability.”

Benefits aren’t just physical, Santiago said, but range from physical to mental and emotional. People tend to use excuses, health, work, busy schedules, as reasons not to get exercise, Santiago said. But there is always room for exercise, and for training. The best part of coaching, he added, is seeing people leave happy and accomplished.

“We want you to be successful no matter what,” Santiago said. “If you leave happy, feel accomplished, and feel good knowing you completed the workout, then I’ve done my job.”

As for the New Year, Santiago doesn’t have New Year’s resolutions, but year-round resolutions.

“I don’t do resolutions myself as I try to work on things when I want them, and not to put them on the back burner,” he said. “As far as other people, when they make their resolutions, I try to be there as a coach and as a friend, offering them what I can. Whether its advice or just finding ways for them to reach their goals.”

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