‘Mermaid-like’ athlete qualifies for fitness competition

"Mermaid-like" athlete inspiring community

MIDLOTHIAN, VA (WWBT) - A Henrico woman is headed to Florida to compete in a well-known fitness festival despite having physical disabilities she considers “mermaid-like”.

Friends have dubbed Maggie Shemenski as the ‘mermaid athlete’ after her feet and hips started to take on the form of the mythical creature.

Despite not having use of her hands or feet, Shemenski isn’t letting that get in her way.

“It’s really surreal to think that people look up to me in that way,” she said.

Shemenski shows up at the gym for 6 a.m. classes just like everyone else. She does the same exercises, the same number of reps; but it’s a bit different for her because of what she calls her mermaid-like features.

“My legs kind of look like flippers that kind of poke out and the hips so it just kind of stuck,” Shemenski said.

In 2016 Shemenski’s fingers started to contract.

“My fingers started to curl up and my calves were really tight,” she said. “Just some odd muscle contractions that I didn’t really think much about.”

She's been to dozens of doctors but none have been able to figure out why she's lost use of her hands and feet.

“They said it was sore muscles; I was working out too much,” Shemenski said. “They said I had Rheumatoid arthritis, and then they said I had Rhabdo and come to find out I didn’t have any of those things.”

She’s even undergone chemotherapy, but nothing has worked. Dealing with these changes in the beginning was a huge hit for Shemenski and her family.

“My son watched his mom go from a complete active, fun mom to someone who was in the hospital all the time,” she said. “Watching my family get scared was the worst."

While she's had some dark moments, nothing can turn her day around like CrossFit.

"It's just fun," she said. “Everyone treats me normal.”

"She comes in day in and day out and does the work,” said CrossFit Pushin Weight owner Ashley Jenkins. “I'll do one workout with her the way that she does it and I don't think people understand what a true, true warrior she is."

That’s why Thursday there’s a fundraiser for Shemenski at the gym to make sure she’s ready to go for the Wodapalooza fitness festival in Miami next week.

"She's changed my life,” Jenkins said. “I don't complain about doing burpees anymore, I don't complain about running because I think about what Maggie would do."

In fact, Shemenski put together her own workout people will be able to do at the fundraiser.

"They have to do it like I do,” she said. “That's the most exciting thing ever because you see all of these able-bodied athletes doing things their way and nobody really understands how I have to do it."

"When you're wearing hooks and you're doing it from your knees it's a different workout and it's a gamechanger,” Jenkins said. “You can understand how hard it is and the tenacity that she has."

On top of everything else, Shemenski ranks in the top five for adaptive CrossFit athletes in the United States.

"Everybody has a story,” Shemenski said. “Whereas I may be an inspiration to others, I have millions of other people who are my inspiration."

The fundraiser will consist of a functional high-intensity interval training and is open to people of any age and fitness level.

Doors open at 6 p.m. with the workout starting at 6:30 p.m. at CrossFit Pushin Weight (1565 Oakbridge Terrace, Powhatan). Donations are welcome and specially made #MermaidStrong t-shirts will be sold for $30. All proceeds will go towards Shemenski’s traveling expenses.

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