The word “champion” has two meanings. One, obviously, is the winner of a competitive event. As a verb, champion also means an individual that supports a cause or community.

These adaptive athletes exemplify both meanings of champion. They have achieved high levels of success in their fields, and they are actively trying to make a positive impact on the lives of others in their community and beyond. Their stories and examples are sure to inspire you today and in the days ahead.

From completing marathons to conquering CrossFit to scaling the most unscalable of terrain, these 11 athletes are proving on a daily basis that nothing is impossible. And with help from organizations such as the MARC Network, the future is sky high for adaptive sports

And perhaps the most important lesson from these athletes: They refuse to take no for an answer.

11 Adaptive Athletes Changing Perceptions of Sports & Fitness

Victor Assaf
Courtesy of Victor Assaf

Victor Assaf: Adaptive CrossFit Athlete

Victor Assaf was already competing in CrossFit in 2012 when a motorcycle accident resulted in him no longer being able to use his right arm. He was told by doctors that CrossFit was no longer in his future. Where others saw adversity, he also saw opportunity and found his way back into training and competition.

He is currently ranked No. 1 in his division and is also working with other athletes as a coach. Nothing holds him back from training or competing, and he shares that same energy with those around him. His goal is to elevate the adaptive CrossFit sport to world-class heights.

“The only thing I’m looking for as an athlete or someone who people may look as an inspiration is to help make adaptive sports as elite as it can be,” he says. “When I retire I want to shake up the entire sport.”

Instagram: @victerie

Lisa DeJong
Courtesy of Lisa DeJong

Lisa DeJong: Paralympic Snowboarder, Author

Lisa DeJong made history at the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games by being Canada’s first medalist in the Games. She earned silver in the Snowboard Cross. She was meant to be in the snow because she came from a skiing family. Even with losing her left leg below the knee at age 3, she found her way into snowboarding by age 12. She went on to become both an instructor and competitor in the years since.

Her most recent contribution wasn’t on a competitive platform, it was as an author. She wrote “Lucy’s Fancy Leg,” a children’s story that both increases awareness and celebrates children growing up with disabilities. This was an important project for her because she wanted to share her message based off her experience in her own voice.

“Stories are so powerful, and my book is unique in that it shows disability in a positive, whimsical, and goofy way that readers young and old can really connect with. A lot of the amputee humor in the book is loosely based off stories from my own childhood.”

Instagram: @lisa_dejong12

Blaze Foster
Courtesy of Blaze Foster

Blaze Foster: Para Powerlifter

Blaze Foster was diagnosed with Achondroplasia, a form of Dwarfism, at birth. He grew up in Pennsylvania and was very active in multiple sports. He felt the greatest connection to Para Powerlifting, and he would go on to represent Team USA at the international level from 2018 until 2023. He’s spent recent months focusing on Adaptive CrossFit and has even gotten into fitness modeling. Part of the reason for his success is being able to remain positive and sharing good vibes with those around him. He credited athletics and training for that.

“Some simple ways that keep my mind positive is fitness, which plays a big part and has taken me to places I would have never imagined,” he said. “I also enjoy reading hardcover nonfiction books, eating healthy, and keeping myself around kindhearted people as much as possible.

Instagram: @blazelifts_32

Earl Granville
Courtesy of Earl Granville

Earl Granville – Spartan Racer and Marathon Runner

Earl Granville had just started basic training when the United States suffered the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He would serve for nine years in the Army National Guard and be involved with multiple deployments, including Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The final mission would be a costly one for him because he encountered a roadside bomb that resulted in the loss of his left leg through the knee. Two of his fellow servicemembers would be lost in that incident.

After losing his limb as well as his brother Joe later on, Granville, he would go on to combat his adversity in positive ways by working with nonprofit groups and serving as a keynote speaker to help others deal with their adversity as well. He shared one quote that he found has helped on that journey to the other side of struggles.

“Find the discipline through the difficult,” Granville says. “You’ll start to embrace the outcome and it will become a habit.”

Instagram: @earlgranville, website

John Edward Heath
Courtesy of John Edward Heath

John Edward Heath: Adaptive CrossFit Athlete

You may have heard many people refer to the members, coaches, and athletes of CrossFit as “the community.” John Edward Heath is one of the athletes in that sport, and he has been very successful in that discipline as well as in snowboarding, and ParaTrack and Field. However, the founder of the Adaptive Athletics Foundation of Maryland thinks about more than the competitors you see in the Games. He is focused on making a difference for other Adaptive athletes, teenagers, and Masters folks. He also supports many of the people that simply are looking for better ways to achieve personal fitness success.

“Community in CrossFit to me is the mom with three kids who shows up to the 9 a.m. class, the grandmother who is recovering from surgery, or the dad who works too many hours and can only find himself in the 6 p.m. class.”

Instagram: @ carbonfiber_john_

Nicky Nieves
Courtesy of Nicky Nieves

Nicky Nieves: Paralympian Volleyball

Nicky Nieves was born without a left hand, but she has done very well for herself without it. She developed a passion for volleyball and worked her way up to competing for the United States in sitting volleyball. She also coaches and has even created Limitless People Inc., a nonprofit with the mission of growing her sport to those that would play seated or standing. The organization’s website proclaims just how important that mission is.

“Here at Limitless, we believe that money, race, physical ability, and gender, should NOT restrict you from volleyball.”

Instagram: @nicolina_cruzzz,
Also at:,

Kevin Ogar
Courtesy of Kevin Ogar

Kevin Ogar: Sled Hockey, Para Powerlifting, CrossFit


Kevin Ogar is the 2022 CrossFit Games Champion in the seated without hip function category. He is also a Level 3 certified coach and owner of CrossFit WatchTower. After suffering an injury that left him in a wheelchair, he opted to focus on the ways that he could still train, coach, and live. The result was him achieving high levels of success in both and inspiring many people with his journey.

Ogar is the subject of the documentary that was released in 2017 and is available on the Only Human YouTube channel. Ogar is also a co-owner of co-owner of WheelWOD, a member of the Avalance sled hockey team, and competed on the USA Para Powerlifting team.

Instagram: @KevinOgar

Brian Reynolds
Courtesy of Brian Reynolds

Brian Reynolds: Double Amputee Runner

New Jersey native Brian Reynolds is a world-record holder as a double below-the-knee amputee runner. He has also represented the United States in international competitions. Born with a compromised immune system, he lost his legs below the knees as a result of meningitis when he was only 4 years old.

He would eventually commit to training with a focus on powerlifting with emphasis on the bench press and deadlift. He did not start considering running until he was in his 20s, but it would be the catalyst to change his life for the better.

“It was not until I was in college that I became serious at powerlifting and competed in local events that I realized I had spent my life shackled not only physically but also mentally,” Reynolds says. “I allowed my disability to define me and dictate who I was. It was at this point that I changed my perception from assuming I could not do things to how can I overcome these obstacles?

He is featured in “The Leadville Trail 100,” a movie that is currently being played in film festivals. He also has plans on climbing the highest summits of all seven continents in the future.

“I may have oversimplified it by stating it as a simple shift in mindset, it took years of blood, sweat, and tears to start to accomplish my goals,” Reynolds says. “When I started my journey into endurance I could not walk a mile, a decade later I have been fortunate enough to climb some of the highest mountains in the world, step up to the start line and race world championship marathons and have met some of my closest friends.”

Instagram: @brianreynoldsrunner

Robert Rodriguez
Courtesy of Robert Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez: Elite Para Triathlete and Motivational Speaker

Instagram: @robertanthony.speaker @limbpossible

Robert Rodriguez (also known as Robert Anthony) doesn’t remember ever having his entire right leg. That is because he was born with Fibular Hemimelia, which led to his amputation at 10 months old. His childhood was flooded with troubles through no fault of his own, including a house fire, child abuse, and more. With trauma comes treasures, and Anthony’s treasures included determination to succeed and resolve to overcome.

The father, husband, and elite Para Triathlete has gone on to speak to over 100,000 students, sharing his story, offering inspirational messages, and making a difference in his travels across the country. He also created a nonprofit organization to help provide prosthetic limbs to underprivileged amputees. Oh yeah, he has also excelled in amputee soccer, paratriathlon, sitting volleyball A2, and competed in Spartan races.

“Let the fire inside you burn brighter than the fire around you,” is Rodriguez’s advice to other athletes.
Kyle Stepp
Courtesy of Kyle Stepp

Kyle Stepp: Para Triathlete

Kyle Stepp has on his Instagram bio that he is “on a mission to do good and live an epic life.” His life had a not so epic phase when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at the age of 14. He initially lived with a rod in his leg, but he ultimately faced amputation in 2020. He struggled to get used to the prosthetic and even refused to wear it at first, but he would eventually find prosthetics that allowed him to be more active.

As a result, he was a part of a team that climbed Cotopaxi in Ecuador and is a very successful Para Triathlete. His journey and ambition are showing people that even if they are considered disabled, they can become very able.

Instagram: @kylestepp

Jack Wallace
Courtesy of Jack Wallace

Jack Wallace: Sled Hockey and Paracanoe

Jack Wallace was very active in sports as a kid until he was 10 years old when a boating accident led to the amputation of his right leg above the knee. It took months of rehabilitation before he could move forward, but once he did, it was right back into sports. He started playing sled hockey and grew up to join the National Development team, then he made the US Paralympic team. Since joining that team, Wallace established himself as a leading force. They went on to win Paralympic gold in 2018 and 2022 as well as three world championships in 2019, 2021, and 2023.

Wallace even made his way back into the water by joining the sport of Paracanoe (Sprint Kayak). He was set to make the Summer Paralympics in Tokyo, but he had to go back into surgery to repair an elbow injury. He is still determined to be a medalist in both the Summer and Winter games. So, he is back to work with his sights set on Paris in 2024.

“I know the power of seeing people with disabilities excel in sports,” Wallace says, “because as a kid that’s exactly what I needed to excel after losing my leg.