CAF Honors Jim MacLaren at San Diego Triathlon Challenge

Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) was dealt a heavy blow
this summer with the loss of Jim MacLaren, for whom the organization originally
was created. In a tribute to his perseverance, CAF dedicated this year’s
event to his memory.


Despite the undercurrent of sadness, the Aspen Medical Products
San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC) maintained its tradition
of bringing sports to people with physical disabilities and inspiring so many
to action.

Fitting tribute

When MacLaren was 22 years old he was struck by a New York City bus and
lost his right leg below the knee to his injuries. He fought back and completed
marathons and Ironman triathlons as an amputee. Just 8 years later he was
riding his bike on a closed triathlon course and was struck by a van, leaving
him quadriplegic.

Still, MacLaren picked himself up once again, regained some physical
function, became a motivational speaker and won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award
at the ESPYs. After his second accident, his friends organized an event to
raise money for his recovery efforts; this event became the Aspen Medical
Products San Diego Triatlon Challenge and eventually lef to the creation of the
Challenged Athletes Foundation.

MacLaren died on Aug. 30, and at this year’s SDTC, CAF members
celebrated the life and legacy of the man they called a trailblazer, constantly
changing perceptions of what is possible for people with physical challenges,
according to a press release.

“The event served as a great way to tribute his life and his
legacy,” Lauren Hinton, CAF’s director of marketing, told
O&P Business News. “It was sad to have lost Jim and
we’re all memorializing that. I think this was a special year because it
brought him back into the fold.”

Preliminary events

The weekend kicked off on Oct. 21 with a panel designed for young
challenged athletes and their parents to learn from experienced challenged
athletes, prosthetists, and parents who have participated in the event before,
Hinton said.

Events on Oct. 22 began with a picnic in La Jolla Shores Kellogg Park
for the participating challenged athletes and their families. During that time,
the cyclists from the Million Dollar Challenge, presented by Qualcomm — a
7-day, 620-mile cycling tour down the California coastline from San Francisco
to San Diego — began to cross through the finish line.

  J.J. Miller was the youngest participant at this year’s CAF events.
  J.J. Miller was the youngest
participant at this year’s CAF events.
  Image: Laura Miller.

That evening, CAF held its Celebration of Abilities Dinner and Awards
presentation. During the presentation, CAF honored the first inductee into its
Hall of Fame: Jim MacLaren. His brother, John, accepted the award on his

CAF also awarded several other athletes. Paul Fejtek, a Brachial Plexus
Palsy patient, received the Aspen Medical Products Most Inspirational Athlete
Award for his “Seven Summits for CAF” conquest, where he climbed the
world’s seven highest summits, raising $114,000 in the name of CAF. The
Jim MacLaren Award went to Alan Voisard for his contribution to educating
challenged athletes in swimming. Amy Palmiero-Winters received the Sempra
Energy Trailblazer Award for her first place overall win in the International
Association of Ultrarunners 24-Hour Run World Championship, and for being the
first amputee to finish the Western States 100. Finally, 5-year-old Ezra Frech
was named the winner of CAF’s Rising Star Award for his dedication to
basketball, and his eagerness in swimming, biking and running.

On Oct. 23, CAF offered three clinics for challenged athletes — the
Ossur Leg Amputee Running and Mobility Clinic, led by Bob Gailey, PhD, PT; the
Challenged Athlete Swim Clinic, led by Alan Voisard and Allison Terry, adaptive
swimming experts; and the Wheelchair Triathlon Workshop, led by Carlos Moleda,
four-time Ironman World Champion.

Main event

The day of the main event, Oct. 24, began with the Parade of Athletes.
CAF announced one athlete from each group, including swimmers, bikers, runners,
the Operation Rebound group and the children’s group.

“It’s a nice start to the day,” Hinton said. “The
videos and introductions get the emotions going and instantly connect people to
the cause.”

The SDTC swim kicked off at 8 a.m., with alternate start times for the
rest of the events. The Kids Run began at 10 a.m. with more than 20 children

“The kids have a great time and they’re super competitive with
each other and have the biggest smiles on their faces,” Hinton said.

Other activities included the Frog’s Fitness Tour de Cove, with 80
spin bikes and 120 participants at La Jolla Cove; Kaiser Permanente Thrive-5K
Fitness Walk that started and finished with more than 200 walkers; as well as
the Paul Mitchell Cut-a-Thon, Family Fun Zone and Silent Auction.

Overall, 700 people participated in the Triathlon events. Fejtek earned
a slot into the Ford Ironman World Championship.

CAF also announced the top fundraisers for the event and the fundraising
total for the triathlon, which was $1.1 million. Additional totals include $1.3
million for the Million Dollar Challenge; $68,000 for the Tour de Cove; $5,000
for the 5K Fitness Walk; and $2,000 for the Paul Mitchell Cut-a-Thon.

Inspirational stories

Lt. Colonel Timothy Karcher stands as another example of CAF’s
mission to help challenged athletes in their recovery. During his second tour
of duty in Iraq, he was shot and lost 75% of the deltoid muscles in his left
arm. After returning for a third combat tour, his vehicle was struck by a
roadside bomb, and he underwent bilateral transfemoral amputation as a result
of the injuries he sustained, he said.

He learned of CAF when Cody McCasland, a 9-year-old bilateral
transfemoral amputee and challenged athlete, invited Karcher and his family to
the 2009 SDTC.

“It showed me that I could overcome my injuries, and I could, with
some hard work and training, get back to my old self,” he said.

He set a goal for himself: to compete in 2010. He spent months training
for the swimming event, and completed the 1.2 mile swim in 56 minutes, which
was 19 minutes off his best time. His new goal is to compete in the swim and
the bike events at the 2011 SDTC.

“Watching all of the challenged competitors get out there and
compete in ways that most people would think was impossible is truly
inspiring,” he said.

SDTC’s youngest participant was Joshua (J.J.) Miller, an active
2-and-a-half-year-old boy with a rare genetic disorder called Werner Mesomelic
Dysplasia with Hirschsprungs. His parents, Michael and Laura, watched as he
endured multiple surgeries.

If she had only one word to describe her son, however, Laura said she
would use “survivor.”

Inspired by Rudy Garcia-Tolson, whom they had met before, and encouraged
by J.J.’s physicians and prosthetists, the Miller family headed to this
year’s SDTC. J.J. marched in the parade with the other children and
entered into the Kids Fun Run at the last minute.

“He did well, like he was born to run.” Laura said.

The Miller family took this feeling home, and plan to return again in

“The whole event was a big confidence booster, even for us as
parents. I used to hide his legs from people in public and try to make him as
inconspicuous as possible,” Laura said. “At the triathlon, J.J. was a
superstar and he was among others just like him.” — by Stephanie
Z. Pavlou

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