Invictus Hosts National Veteran Summer Sports Clinic
Written by Alec Zirkenbach

Invictus had the honor of hosting 130 veterans from all across the USA for a week of workouts during the annual Veterans Administration (VA) National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic. The clinic is one of six national events held throughout the year to address the whole health needs of all veterans recovering from significant service-connected physical or psychological impairments.

The National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic program gives Veterans with disabilities an opportunity for self-development through education and recreational activities. The mission of the week-long clinic is to introduce veterans to a wide-range of adaptive sports, fitness, and activities in hopes they find something they enjoy that they incorporate into their regular wellness routine. Veterans are exposed to events such as sailing, surfing, kayaking, archery, cycling, and fitness training.

During the week, Invictus hosted a different group of about 40 veterans each day for a fun and educational workout. The vets were taught proper squatting technique and then put that skill to use in workout along with numerous other functional movements. 

The workouts were led by two Invictus coaches who are also Navy veterans, Alec Zirkenbach and Nick Hawkes. 

Alec was medically retired from the Navy in 2013 and has gone on to create adaptive training education for other coaches and therapists through his organization Adaptive Training Academy, as well as coaching adaptive classes at Invictus and is the strength and conditioning coach for the newly formed San Diego State Adaptive Athletics program.  

Nick Hawkes is the longest-tenured coach at Invictus and is among an elite few who have earned the title of CrossFit Level 4 Certified Coach. He has been actively involved in coaching fitness since 2005 and is the resident movement expert specifically assisting people in living pain-free.

Movement is Medicine

“Movement is medicine,” said Nick while debriefing each group of veterans after their workout. “This is your meat vessel,” he said pointing to his chest, “it’s what enables you to experience life, and you have to take care of it because you only get one.” Nick then pointed to his head and said, “exercise not only takes care of your body but more importantly it keeps your mind healthy.” The group of veterans connected with his message and were all nodding and clapping in agreement.

Recreation Therapy Results for Veterans

Minneapolis-based VA Medical Center recreation therapist, Kristin Powell who was supporting the clinic said, “from an evidence-based perspective, it shows that working with our Veterans in a variety of formats – clinically, medically and engaging them through recreation – helps improve their whole spectrum of health. We know this proves that it helps them heal physically, emotionally, mentally, through all domains.”

David Tostenrude, acting Summer Sports Clinic director who also oversees the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, said the results last long after they leave. “The earlier Veterans get into this type of rehabilitation, the sooner they can get and stay healthy. The longer they wait, it’s harder.” Tostenrude said he hopes to reach out to more Veterans earlier in their injuries.

“The sport is just a tool. When I see Veterans going beyond where they thought they were capable – sailing, riding a bike again when they thought they couldn’t – it develops skills, fitness, coordination and techniques to overcome their disability.”

Adaptive Fitness Program

In addition to hosting the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic, Invictus offers a free, weekly Adaptive Fitness class open to anyone every Wednesday at 1 pm at the Downtown location. To find out more about the Adaptive Fitness program at Invictus, please contact Coach Alec at [[email protected]].


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