By Vicki French Bennington
Tiffany Eickhoff has made many strides in her life, and she’s not about to stop now.
Her latest accomplishment involved setting, reaching and even surpassing goals, while working out at CrossFit 314 in South St. Louis County. Though that would be an achievement for anyone who is trying to reach a fitness target, it is even more impressive for Eickhoff, who has cerebral palsy, a physical disability that she was diagnosed with when she was 3 months old.
Now 30, Eickhoff said she never likes to say she can’t do something.
“I believe that even if you have a disability like cerebral palsy or other conditions – or if you don’t – you can do the things you set out to do if you put your mind to it,” Eickhoff said. “Working out has done wonders for my CP.”
When she was a child, she had a couple of surgeries, and physical, occupational and speech therapies, all of which helped her improve her mobility and become more independent. She graduated from Oakville Senior High School, and earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communications, with a minor in sociology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Though most of the time, she walks with the aid of a cane to help with balance, she used a motorized wheel chair much of the time in college because of long distances she needed to go when navigating the campus.
“And I ended up gaining a lot of weight,” Eickhoff said.
After graduation in 2014, she began working out, and changed the way she was eating – gave up soda and sugar, incorporated more fruits and vegetables and lean meat (Paleo-style diet), and she began to see a difference. In December 2017, she joined CrossFit 314, and the trainers helped her kick her workouts – and weight loss – into high gear.
“Some of the exercises I do have to be adapted, but that’s fine. We find a way to make it work for me,” Eickhoff said. “I’ve lost about 60 pounds, my balance is better, and I can get around more.”
A recent video on social media of Eickhoff working with a CrossFit trainer, pulling a tire across a parking lot, went viral. She was thrilled, and hopes it inspires others to try things that might seem impossible.
Her next goal is to be able to walk without a cane. And she would like to compete in the next round of CrossFit games as an adaptive athlete.
“The CrossFit trainers have had a huge impact on me – especially Marina Gidcum, whom I worked with a lot,” she said.
Eickhoff has a long list of previous accomplishments, as well, and said, “Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to inspire people.”
She is a motivational speaker, having given talks at schools and St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s Camp Independence, a camp for children and teens with cerebral palsy. She is also a substitute paraprofessional for the Special School District of St. Louis County, helping children with disabilities to get around at school.
In 2013, she won state and national titles for her age division in the Miss Amazing pageant, an event for girls and women with disabilities.
And not too long ago, she got her driver’s license, and now drives an adapted, hand-control car, which increased her independence. Earlier this year, she and her black Labrador mobility service dog, Dasher, graduated from Duo: Assistance Dogs for All Needs.
“Dasher helps me at home by picking things up off of the floor, and in public, he helps mainly with balance – he’s saved me from several falls – but he can also bump buttons to open doors and other similar tasks,” she said.
Another hurdle that Eickhoff said took awhile, but she’s now achieved, is learning to style her own hair and apply her makeup.
“I love makeup, but I really work at making it look natural, and I love clothes and fashion,” she said. “After I lost weight, it became much easier to find clothes, and I’m learning more about how to put different pieces together.”
A huge country music fan, Eickhoff got the thrill of a lifetime this summer, while attending her 17th Keith Urban concert.
She won backstage passes to meet Kelsea Ballarini, who opened for Urban at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in June, and as Eickhoff was heading back to her seat, Urban happened to be walking behind her. He greeted her, gave her a hug and took a picture with her – which she treasures.
To contact Eickhoff or read her blog, visit tiffanyeickhoff.wordpress.com.