More than 5,000 supporters, spectators and participants attended The Challenged Athletes Foundation’s Annual Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge on Oct. 20.
In the 20 years that the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) has hosted the event, no one could have predicted the horrific way that five of the athletes came to be there.
Five survivors from the Boston Marathon bombings took part in the event, including Heather Abbott, Roseann Sdoia, Celeste Corcoran, Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky Downe. Abbott, who had already received her running leg through a CAF grant, in partnership with Össur and Knights of Columbus, participated in the CAF Össur Leg Amputee Running Clinic on Saturday, Oct. 19. She was joined by Sdoia, who had received her running leg just days prior to flying to San Diego and used it for the first time at the clinic. Downes also participated in the run clinic on his walking leg.
Parade of athletes
The San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC) began on Sunday with a parade of athletes and a special presentation welcoming the Boston survivors. The event featured nearly 300 challenged athletes from around the United States. Two hundred athletes participated alongside able bodied athletes in the 1-mile swim, 44-mile bike and 10-mile run distance triathlon, which raised $1.2 million in support of CAF’s mission to help individuals with physical challenges get involved in sports. The festivities at La Jolla Cove also included the 24-hour Fitness Tour de Cove cycling marathon in which more than 175 participants cycled and raised $79,000, and the Kaiser Permanente Thrive-5K Fitness Walk. Funds raised through these events allow CAF to provide grants for adaptive sports equipment, training and competition expenses so challenged athletes can live active lifestyles and participate in sports.
Abbott, Sdoia and Corcoran participated in the Philadelphia Insurance Kids’ Run with CAF mentor Jami Marseilles.
Marseilles, a mother of two and a 3rd grade teacher in the Garden Grove Unified school district in Orange County, Calif., has supported CAF for 15 years. A bilateral amputee, Marseilles said her own mentor was Sarah Reinertsen, whom she met at her first race. Reinertsen subsequently introduced Marseilles to CAF.
Marseilles has participated in several 10-mile runs and the 5K Fitness Walks during the Triathlon. She is also an ambassador for the foundation, and the only female bilateral amputee to complete three half marathons.
“I believe strongly in their mission,” Marseilles told O&P Business News. CAF called her about attending their annual gala in New York City in June, where she met Corcoran. Corcoran was a spectator at the Boston Marathon to support her sister Carmen, who was running in the race.
“We had a great bond,” Marseilles said. “I had a wonderful opportunity to share my life with Celeste; I shared with her my experience about using prosthetics. She is an incredibly strong woman who has been amazing. I feel honored to work with Challenged Athletes for mentorship.”
Marseilles flew out to Boston in October for another CAF event, and met once again with Corcoran. “I met her husband and her family, and then for the Triathlon, Challenged Athletes brought Celeste and her family out to California. We spent some nice quality time, her husband met my husband and she got to meet my kids.”
Although Marseilles is quick to acknowledge the support of family and friends when she lost her legs 26 years ago, she said knowing others who shared her experience as an amputee helped her immensely.
“With my family and friends, I was able to get back into the world. But the relationship I developed with Sarah and [Paralympic athlete] Lindsay Nielsen … sharing a bond with someone about my prosthetics who really gets it, helps me get through my day. If I need to complain, if my legs hurt…they get it.
“I feel fortunate with Challenged Athletes’ support, that I have been able to help Celeste. There are a lot of questions about prosthetics and how everything works, so being able to share my knowledge and experience, we have have developed this wonderful bond that we will have forever.”
“Many call the Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge ‘The Best Day in Triathlon,’” Virginia Tinley, CAF’s executive director, said at the event. “It is amazing to see how much we have grown over the past 2 decades and how many lives we have been able to positively impact. I can’t say enough to thank our supporters, sponsors and fundraisers who have made it all possible.”
The SDTC started 20 years ago as a small fundraiser to help a local amputee triathlete who became a quadriplegic in a tragic second accident. The event has helped CAF raise more than $50 million in the past 20 years and helped grow awareness of amputees’ issues. From injured veterans to children born with physical differences, the SDTC welcomes athletes of all ages and abilities and provides an uplifting experience — showcasing what is possible for challenged athletes.
This year, CAF welcomed dozens of other special guests, in addition to the Boston Marathon bombing survivors. Celebrities, professional athletes and special guests in attendance included:
- NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton
- Two-time Ironman World Champion and legend Scott Tinley
- Former Major League Baseball player Eric Byrnes
- Professional sports announcer Craig Hummer
- Pro-triathletes Andy Potts, Luke McKenzie, Luke Bell, Tom Lowe, Chrissie Wellington and Meredith Kessler
- Actress Kelly Lang from The Bold and the Beautiful
- Actress Bianca Kajlich from The Rules of Engagement
- Dr. Andy Baldwin from The Bachelor
- Two-time XTERRA World Champion, cancer survivor and world champion paracyclist, Jamie Whitmore
- Bob Babbitt, CAF co-founder and editor-in-chief of Competitor magazine
- Challenged athlete, author and reality TV star Sarah Reinertsen of The Amazing Race
Marseilles vowed to stay committed to the goals of CAF.
“I will always be involved with Challenged Athletes, even if they have to push me in a wheelchair down to San Diego in 30 years,” she said. “CAF gives back $.80 for every $1.00 they receive to provide opportunities and support people with physical disabilities to lead an active lifestyle. They want to show you through exercise how you can be a stronger person, and with the support from your family and friends, you have to find that strength from within.” — by Carey Cowles