The 30-year-old resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia, may have been born without any arms and legs, but it never occurred to her that her body should limit her athleticism, which has been on display since she began playing organized sports as a kid.
By middle school, she was playing on her school soccer team. In high school, she added field hockey and rugby to her list. The love affair with rugby continued through college and after graduation, when Hilton joined the Halifax Tars, a club team that she still plays for.
She’s always been drawn to being outdoors, pushing her physical limits and competing with teammates.
“People have called me inspirational throughout my entire life,” Hilton told The Washington Post. “I just think, you know, I’m kind of doing everyday activities. Because I’ve been the same way my whole life, I don’t see myself as different than anybody else.
“I’m not setting out to be inspirational. I’m trying to do things that I enjoy and that challenge me.”
Hilton’s latest challenge: CrossFit, the workout regimen practiced in warehouses around the world that combines a mixture of Olympic weight-lifting, sprints, gymnastics and plyometrics, also known as jump training.
She got involved with CrossFit by chance, when a local gym set up a booth at a rugby game Hilton was attending and offered a free membership to the person who could do the most “burpees” (example here) in a minute. That person, as it turned out, was Hilton, who managed to bang out 34 of the torturous exercises in 60 seconds.
That was in September. Over the past six months, Hilton has embraced the sport, including those exercises that have initially presented significant challenges for her body type. The sport has no shortage of adaptive athletes, many of whom are missing arms or legs or rely on wheelchairs to move around. Hilton has studied those that she’s been able to find, but she has yet to find someone like her — a person figuring out, among other things, how to do pull-ups and power cleans without hands.
“There is no blueprint,” she told The Post, noting that this is her first experience doing pull-ups and working with heavy weights. “Basically, everything I have accomplished with CrossFit has been trial and error. I may not be able to do every movement, but my attitude is I’ll just figure out a way to make it all work.”
Her adaptability does not come without effort, but she has a way of making that effort look natural. For deadlifts and pull-ups, she attaches a velcro wrist wrap to her arms. The wrap is connected by chains to metal hooks that allow her to raise a weighted bar or hang from one above to lift her own body weight.
“Any overheard stuff with a bar is a work in progress,” she said, noting that for now she uses kettle bells to simulate power cleans. “Maybe I can’t do a full snatch, but I can still do something that works those same muscles in a different way.”
“Every workout at CrossFit is scalable and adaptable,” she added.”
During a recent day in the gym, Hilton asked a friend to film as she performed several of those exercises. She was hoping to watch the film and critique her pull-ups.
She never expected that the footage would make its way to CrossFit headquarters, which posted Hilton’s workout on its Facebook page, where it went viral.
For Hilton, the video’s value does not lie in its ability to inspire lazy people with arms and legs to get in shape. What makes the footage special, she said, is that it may help future adaptive athletes realize that a sport like CrossFit can be inclusive and that a wide range of body types can lead active lives.
She’s not an inspiration, she said, but an example, one that she’s been setting since childhood.
“I had a great childhood,” she told The Post. “I had great coaches and teachers who were always willing to make things work for me and encouraged me to take risks. Adaptive athletes — especially young ones — need people who say, ‘Let’s figure it out!’ versus ‘No, it’s too scary.”
“I’ve had more of the ‘Let’s figure it out’ type people in my life and that video is proof.'”