Bringing together Paralympic champions, Ironman competitors and challenged and able-bodied athletes of all abilities, the San Diego Triathlon Challenge is an unparalleled event.
Hosted by the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), the 19th Annual Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC) was a weekend-long event celebrating the abilities and accomplishments of challenged athletes.
More than 300 challenged athletes and 700 able-bodied athletes participated, while more than 5,000 spectators cheered on the athletes throughout the weekend, which took place in La Jolla, Calif. from Oct. 19-21.
“From the youngest toddlers to medal-winning Paralympians, challenged athletes of all ages and abilities were given a unique opportunity to prove to themselves, and the world, that there is nothing they can’t accomplish,” a CAF representative stated in a press release.
Image: CAF and Evan Burgher
The weekend’s events included the 24-hour Fitness Tour de Cove, which hosted 228 cyclists who rode for 4½ hours on stationary bikes; the Kaiser Permanente Thrive-5K Fitness Walk, which included over 130 walkers who enjoyed a scenic stroll along the Pacific Ocean; and a challenged athlete kid’s run that allowed even the youngest of participants to display their athletic prowess.
Parade of athletes
As in previous years, the weekend began with the Parade of Athletes, where the challenged athletes are saluted and celebrated by the crowd. In honor of the 2012 Paralympics in London, eight CAF-supported Paralympians in attendance led the parade and later gave interviews on stage, sharing their stories and experiences from London.
Blake Leeper was among the Paralympians. A bilateral transtibial amputee, Leeper started running only 3 three years ago after receiving a CAF grant for running prostheses. He made his Paralympic debut this year and brought home a silver medal and bronze medal.
“To some challenged athletes, such an accomplishment can seem out of reach, but meeting and participating side-by-side with these accomplished challenged athletes like Blake Leeper provides inspiration and insight into what is possible,” Jenna Novotny, the marketing manager for CAF, said. “By the end of the day, the Challenged Athletes Foundation staff heard dozens of young athletes proclaim, ‘I am going to the Paralympics one day!’”
One such participant was Oshlianna Stewart, who was attending a CAF event for the first time.
“It was truly an amazing and life-changing experience,” Stewart said. “I felt like a whole other person. I felt so inspired.”
Stewart, whose right leg was amputated due to cancer in March 2010, participated in the kid’s run over the weekend.
“It was amazing to be a part of that. Seeing all of the things that everyone was accomplishing gave me a sense of empowerment and motivated me to pursue my dreams of becoming a Paralympic athlete,” Stewart said. “I left there feeling more motivated and inspired than ever.”
Stewart applied for a grant to receive a running prosthesis through CAF as soon as she returned to her home in Texas, and is already eyeing the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I sent in the application right away, because she is ready to get rocking,” Yolanda Davis, Stewart’s mother, said. “She has always been a good kid and always motivated, but when we were there, it was like she was somebody else. I was just so glad that we were invited and able to go, because she feels like she can do anything she wants now.”
The weekend’s events culminated with the Triathlon Challenge. The triathlon consisted of a 1-mile swim, 44- mile bike ride and 10-mile run. Participants had the option of completing the full race individually or as part of a relay team.
Image: CAF and Shiggy Ichinomiya
The weekend events raised $1.4 million, which will be used to provide equipment, training and support for physically-challenged individuals. — Megan Gilbride