With Priscilla Project, Asheville gym owners want people with developmental disabilities to exercise, too

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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Aaron Ledford and Alissa Hanan want people with developmental disabilities to exercise, too.

That’s why the co-owners of Summit CrossFit in Asheville plan to donate proceeds from a spring fitness competition to a new program they hope might someday be used in CrossFit gyms across the country. Their program is called the Priscilla Project.

Summit CrossFit will host the Appalachian Games on April 14 at the WNC Ag Center. This is a first-year event featuring competitions among four-person teams. There event, which is free to spectators, will feature a “vendor village,” food and more.

The Appalachian Games will take the place of the River Ruckus after organizers of that event decided not to stage it this year. Over the past few years, the River Ruckus drew hundreds of competitors from around the region.

The Priscilla Project started at Summit CrossFit in 2014 as a volunteer effort to offer free fitness training for children and adults with a spectrum of developmental disabilities. Now Ledford and Hanan are ready to grow the program into a nonprofit that can be used by gyms anywhere.

Ledford said the Priscilla Project is named after a woman whose son Henry he cared for while he lived and worked in Florida, a woman he says became “like a mother to me.” Henry lost about 70 pounds and started talking and interacting more after the simple exercise regime and an improved diet, Ledford said. It’s been shown over and over again that fitness training can help with emotional stress, as well as cognitive development.

When Ledford brought program to Asheville, he said he dedicated it to his “Florida mom” who was such an inspiration.

Aaron Ledford and Alissa Hanan


The Priscilla Project classes include aerobic dance, yoga and simple exercises such as sit-ups,  while participants work on social skills along the way. A family member or caretaker is required to come along, and getting some parents involved can be a challenge, Ledford says.

“It’s a great way for them to exercise and socialize,” he says.

The workouts are also good practice for anyone planning to compete in the Special Olympics, he adds.


A handful of similar approaches exist in gyms, Ledford says, but he hopes to fund and formalize the Priscilla Project to make it easier to be adopted on a wider scale. Summit CrossFit has saved all the Priscilla Project workouts, and he’s working on a training program for coaches.

“We just want to create a safe, happy, fun place” for anybody to get some exercise, Ledford says.


Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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