n a part of the world best known as the home of Sidney Crosby, at a narrow gym in an industrial park, a 31-year-old woman powers through a slew of improbable athletic feats.
Lindsay Hilton, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, was born without hands or arms or legs. What she has, though, is ambition, a passion for CrossFit and rugby and the ingenuity to eliminate her limitations. She throws 100 pounds up toward her head with the help of chains from a local hardware store, straps and Velcro.
"It makes me so mad when people don't try," she says. "It actually drives me crazy."
Swimming and soccer came first. She played field hockey, too. In high school, though, a love affair bloomed. She discovered rugby, which she would play competitively at both the university and club level. She still coaches high school rugby and plays from May to August. In 2016, she tried to cut back in favor of focusing on CrossFit. She found herself unfulfilled and decided she had to jump back in.
"I feel like if I didn't play rugby, I wouldn't know what I would do on Tuesday and Thursday nights," she says. "I thought I would be done, but I don't think I am. I'm still having fun, so I don't see why I would stop."
Rugby also introduced Hilton to two more integral parts of her life: Matt Melanson, an avid rugby player who has been dating her for four years, and CrossFit. She started that fitness regimen after winning a gym membership during a burpee contest at a rugby tournament.
Jenny Jeffrey, the owner of CrossFit Onside, is Hilton's coach. She helps with some of the adaptations that help Hilton complete both free-weight and weighted workouts.
"Nothing gets in her way, and she remains so positive," Jeffrey says. "[She] needs to be challenged, as much, if not more than, anyone else in the gym."
On Wednesday, Hilton will be in Miami to compete in Wodapalooza, an international CrossFit competition. For months, she fought through grueling workouts at least four times a week while juggling work, coaching and her relationship to qualify in the top five for the Adaptive Seated RX division of the international fitness festival.
Still, she feels as though there is more to do.
"I don't want to be 'good for someone without arms and legs,'" she says. "I want to be good."
Lindsay Hilton executes a wall-ball throw during a group workout at CrossFit OnSide in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Hilton was born without arms and legs but has always been tied to sports. That passion will be on display throughout the Wodapalooza Fitness Festival in Miami, which began Wednesday. "I just want to be active, and I'm super competitive," she says. "That's what keeps me going. I also tolerate working out because I like to eat a lot of food."
Hilton took advantage of the rules for step-ups during her final qualifying workout for Wodapalooza in early October. The guidelines for the workout stated competitors could use their hands to perform the step-up -- making her smile wryly before completing the exercise and qualifying in the top five of the competition.
Jenny Jeffrey, right, coach and co-owner of CrossFit OnSide, helped Hilton come up with the equipment to execute this high-pull clean: chains purchased at a local hardware store and straps to connect Hilton's arms to the chains. "We spent so much time on the internet trying to find the proper adaptive equipment," Jeffrey says. "But, it doesn't exist; it's all custom."
Hilton prepares coffee at her home in Halifax. Along with CrossFit, she coaches or plays rugby from February to August. The balance, she says, is difficult, but she can't imagine life without coaching at Sir John A. Macdonald High School in Halifax or with the club rugby team she plays on, the Halifax Tars.
Hilton lies down with her boyfriend, Matt Melanson, in their home. The two met through rugby and have been together for four years.
Hilton grabs a plate to raise the weight for her workout. Along with group exercise, Hilton also does individual work at the gym, and she felt cautiously optimistic going into Wodapalooza. "I feel pretty good right now," she says. "I feel prepared. I don't know; I'm still a little nervous."
The band-and-hook apparatus Hilton uses for butterfly pull-ups creases the skin on her arms, but she puts up with it to make sure she does her reps. This rig is one of the adaptations devised by Hilton and the staff at CrossFit OnSide. The pull-ups are one of the toughest movements for Hilton, not only because of the tension on her arms, but also because of how tight the bands have to be tied in order to support her.
Another improvisation: Hilton uses Velcro straps on the lifting hooks for deadlifts. A deadlift is one of the basic movements in CrossFit, and it's the base for several movements that Hilton will likely use at Wodapalooza.
The artwork on her prosthetics speaks to how Hilton's mindset has changed over the years. "For most of my life, I searched for ways to make my fake legs look 'real,'" she says. "I tried all sorts of different covers and discovered that in the end, my legs are fake and they will always look fake, so why not make them look cool?"
Hilton explains a drill while coaching at a youth rugby camp in Halifax. The 31-year-old also coaches at a local high school, Sir John A. Macdonald. The team's season runs from training in February to about mid-April. Then, she transitions into her own club season.
Melanson took Hilton out for a beer and food crawl on her 31st birthday. Humor, she says, is a big part of what makes their relationship work. They jokingly prod at each other all the time.
Hilton holds her car keys in her mouth before taking a picture with her smartphone. An avid user of social media, Hilton says that perhaps the most frequently asked question she receives is whether or not she can text. (She can.)
Most people familiar with CrossFit workouts have heard of or tried a snatch. Until recently, Hilton didn't have prosthetics capable of supporting the movement. With the help of her prosthetist, Catherine MacPhail, Hilton worked to develop an adaptive prosthetic for the lift. At first, they substituted a broom handle for a barbell to assess the angle the arms had to reach and how they would maintain a grip on the bar.
MacPhail and Hilton spent months researching and designing the arms. For inspiration, Hilton turned to YouTube. "I would watch somebody doing something missing one arm and then watch someone missing one leg or two legs, and then I'd come up with how I would do it," she says. "They basically took casts of my arms, and then we figured out how long do the arms need to be, what angle do we want them to be at." They were ready just in time for Wodapalooza.
Hilton performs handstand pushups against the wall as another athlete takes a breather between sets at CrossFit OnSide. Jeffrey, the co-owner, has a particularly strong bond with Hilton. The coach had to cope with her mother's disabilities following a car accident, and Hilton's desire to adapt and push past her limitations is inspiring and cathartic. "It's been an important relationship for me," Jeffrey says. "How could it not, seeing Lindsay doing what she's been doing her whole life?"
Hilton's outdoor walking sleeves rest on the ground with the other athletes' footwear at CrossFit OnSide. Hilton has a variety of leg prosthetics to suit her various activities, such as blades, sleeves and a pair with cleats for playing rugby.
CrossFit workouts are often done in circuits, so it's essential to quickly switch from one exercise to another. Hilton gets an assist on preparation from Jeffrey or her partners on some of these workouts.
In order to drive, Hilton wears her prosthetic legs and allocates one leg on the brake and one leg on the gas. She grudgingly admits to not being able to drive a standard but jokes that she'll just go for it someday.
Hilton is often averse to wearing her prosthetic legs but does so on walks with her dog, Gus.
Hilton, fourth from right, wraps around a competitor's leg to make a tackle for the Halifax Tars during a rugby tournament in July. She jokes that she's getting a bit old, but the itch to play keeps bringing her back to the field -- and if there are any obstacles to her playing, they aren't physical. "I just don't see myself as disabled," she says.
Hilton, left, passes the ball before being tackled. "Rugby has fully changed my life," she says. "Rugby has so shaped who I am that I can't imagine what I would be doing if I didn't play rugby."
After a slight break from the sport in 2016, Hilton is all but assuredly going to fully commit to play in 2017. What's another challenge, anyway?