CAF Celebrates Ability: San Diego Triathlon Challenge

The 16th Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge provides challenged athletes with opportunities to dream big and accomplish even greater goals.

For 16 years, the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) has been proving to the world that people with physical disabilities can achieve the same athletic feats as able-bodied people, with just a little bit of help.

In 1994, the first triathlon — now known as the Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC) — was held as a fundraiser for a fellow triathlete. The triathlon has since become a week-long string of events designed to raise money for those with physical disabilities and inspire all athletes.

This year

For this year’s event, CAF made changes to improve the experience for both the participants and the various supporters. These changes included a revamped venue layout, a jumbo screen projecting the events for spectators, a new Q&A panel for parents, and an open invitation to the banquet and awards dinner.

Despite having lowered its typical fundraising goals in light of the current economy, CAF surpassed its goals and hitting the $1 million mark.

More important, however, is that spectators heard some inspiring stories that they will carry with them, Lauren Hinton, director of marketing for CAF, told O&P Business News.

Preliminary events

This year’s series of events began earlier than in past years. On Thursday, Oct. 22, CAF held a family dinner and Q&A panel, where parents were able to learn about the children’s events and to ask questions and hear about experiences from elite athletes like Sarah Reinertsen, as well as from parents of other challenged athletes, therapists and prosthetists.

Friday, Oct. 23, marked the arrival of the Qualcomm Million Dollar Challenge (QMDC) riders to La Jolla Shores, where the Meet and Greet Picnic was already in progress, bringing together CAF athletes, families and friends. The QMDC bicyclists rode 620 miles down the coast from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco — with stopping points in Santa Cruz, Big Sur, Pismo Beach, Santa Barbara, Marina del Rey and Newport Beach — to the finish line in La Jolla over 7 days.

Rounding out the evening was the Celebration of Abilities banquet and awards dinner, where CAF recognized the event’s sponsors and several award winners, including Race Across America’s Team Can Be Venture, which consists of Patrick Doak, Hannes Koeppen, PhD, Vico Merklein and Carlos Moleda; CAF board member Jeff Jacobs; Paralympic gold medalist Brian Frasure; and 7-year-old bilateral transfemoral amputee athlete Cody McCasland.

On Saturday, Oct. 24, CAF provided challenged athletes with the opportunity to fine-tune their prosthetic skills in simultaneous workshops. Bob Gailey, PhD, PT, led the Ossur Leg Amputee Mobility Clinic, with help from Ossur clinicians Francois Van Der Wat, CP, Kurt Gruben, CP, and Frasure, and seasoned Team Ossur members, including Reinertsen, Marlon Shirley, Rudy Garcia-Tolson. Former Ironman World Champion David Bailey led the Wheelchair Triathlon Workshop, and “One Arm” Willie Stewart led the Upper Extremity Amputee Triathlon Workshop.

San Diego Triathlon Challenge San Diego Triathlon Challenge San Diego Triathlon Challenge
All images reprinted with permission from the Challenged Athletes Foundation/Janice Darlington.

Parade of Athletes

The Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge began on Sunday, Oct. 25, with a breakfast and event check-in before the introduction of athletes at 7 a.m.

With more than 195 challenged athletes participating in this year’s events, CAF had to devise a new way to present all of the participants to the crowd of onlookers. The Parade of Athletes brought together all of the Triathlon swimmers, runners and bicyclists, and child challenged athletes with Ironman champions and celebrities like Greg Ellis, Patrick Fabian and Alexandra Paul. Many of these participants were escorted to the stage to share their stories with the crowd.

Closing out the Parade, CAF presented the 26 injured military personnel and first responders from Operation Rebound. Several of these participants also told their stories.

Finish line

The National Anthem, sung by Samuel Nehemiah, a Paralympic wheelchair athlete, kicked off the event. The swim began at 8 a.m., with five waves including 60 challenged athlete swimmers, the bike race began at 8:15 a.m., the run at 9 a.m. and the wheelie runners at 9:30 a.m.

Other activities, like the Silent Auction, Wawanesa Family Fun Zone, and Paul Mitchell cut-a-thon, took place during the Triathlon. In addition, visitors could take part in the Frog’s Fitness Tour de Cove, a 4-and-a-half hour spin-a-thon, the Kaiser Permanente 5K Walk, and the Challenged Athletes Kids Run.

At the end of the event, CAF hosted an Awards BBQ to recognize top fundraisers.

Special presentations

Cameron Lutges
Cameron Lutges participated in the Challenged Athletes Kids Run.

Amid the packed Triathlon schedule, CAF also made a few special presentations. For the first, Bill Hansbury, a transtibial amputee, presented 10-year-old Jake Bainter with his first Ossur Flex Run Foot.

Next, CAF board president, Jeffrey Essakow, and his wife, Jill, presented Luvo Sanqele, a young man from South Africa, with two sets of transfemoral prostheses to replace the outdated wooden prostheses he had been wearing.

As part of the Tour de Cove’s closing ceremony, 8-year-old Cody McCasland, a bilateral amputee, presented Lt. Colonel Timothy Karcher, who lost both his legs in Iraq, with a Krankcycle, an upper body exercise bike.

Finally, Bailey presented Tara Llanes, a paralyzed mountain bike racer, with her first handcycle so that she can complete her own Ironman dreams.

Money raised

Overall, CAF raised more than $2.1 million to fund adaptive sports equipment, training and competition expenses for challenged athletes.

“Thanks to the tremendous support we’ve received this year from our sponsors, fundraisers, donors and volunteers, CAF has been able to surpass our fundraising goal in a year when we needed it most,” Virginia Tinley, CAF’s executive director, said in a news release. “It’s through their support that CAF is able to provide individuals with the opportunity to move past their physical challenges and monetary limitations to get into the game.”

The SDTC and QMDC each raised more than $1 million, with 610 and 100 participants, respectively. The 75 bikes taking part in the Tour de Cove brought in more than $53,000, and the Kaiser Permanente 5K Walk raised more than $5,000 from 50 participants.

“It was a big weekend for us,” Hinton said.

Supporters of the event included the Triathlon Club of San Diego, Aspen Medical Products, Hanger, Ossur, Loma Linda University, SCOPe Orthotics & Prosthetics Inc., and media partners XX1090-AM Sports Radio, Triathlete Magazine, Competitor Magazine and O&P Business News.

Next year

“Overall, it was a huge success for CAF,” Hinton said. “We surpassed our goal, and more importantly, the challenged athletes were the stars of the day. Anyone walking down in La Jolla Cove got to meet some extraordinary individuals.”

CAF is running with that momentum to get started on next year’s event.

The 2010 Triathlon, scheduled for Oct. 24, will incorporate the traditions of the past with this year’s improvements, like reorganizing the layout, which Hinton said helped with the flow of the venue.

“People enjoyed it and made it more of a family-friendly and spectator-friendly event,” she said.

“We typically get great weather too,” she said. “Knock on wood.”

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Stephanie Z. Pavlou, ELS, is a staff writer for O&P Business News.

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