Challenged athletes compete and connect at triathlon challenge in San Diego

SAN DIEGO — The Challenged Athletes Foundation kicked off the 22nd Annual Aspen Medical Products Triathlon here at La Jolla Cove.

More than 5,000 supporters, spectators and participants filled the coast-side auditorium for the Celebration of Abilities ceremony, which is designed to inspire challenged athletes to live life to their full potential.

“We are all here,” Bill Babbit, Ironman competition winner and Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) co-founder, said in his opening address. “We have the parents, kids and top athletes who know what this is all about.”

“It is about the games and activities, of course,” Bill Geppert, chief executive officer of CAF, added. “But it is about what we can do to inspire you to compete, participate and to make a difference in your lives.”

He added, “Here, is where you will meet, bond and share life lessons for the first time. Now, is when you get the resources you need to take on the obstacles that lie ahead.”

The second day of the event started with swimming, surfing and cycling obstacles for the athletes. Activities also included slalom, tandem cycling and wheelchair mobility clinics.

“I am most surprised by the kids,” Chele Teabout, a first-time CAF participant and transtibial amputee, told O&P News. “We all know that kids are resilient and can deal with this stuff much better than we can.”

She added, “But nothing stopped them today. They were running faster than the people trying to help them; swimming faster than the people trying to guide them. It kind of taught me that if they can do it when they are little, then we can do it when we are big.”

The day continued with families and friends visiting a sports expo at the Deni & Jeff Jacobs Challenged Athletes Center, where they received goodie bags and had an opportunity to hear from American heroes like Joseph Brunia, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and transtibial amputee. “I do not know how much advice I can give, but I can say that [CAF] has been a wonderful inspiration,” Brunia said. “Not only for the kids, but for me as well.”

He added, “We learn how to be active and stay positive after hope seems to be lost. When I first lost my leg, I thought I was done. But with the support of CAF, I am back on my feet.”

‘Best Day in Tri’

The third and final day, or “Best Day in Triathlon,” opened with a tribute to challenged athletes of the past, present and future, streamed live across jumbo TV screens around the city.

Participants line up at the start of the 22nd annual Aspen Medical Products Triathlon hosted by the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

Participants line up at the start of the 22nd annual Aspen Medical Products Triathlon hosted by the Challenged Athletes Foundation. 

Source: Carter SM, O&P News


Participants took to the streets for the Parade of Athletes and marched with celebrities, such as Meredith Kessler, a professional triathlete and Ironman champion; Bill Walton, a former National Basketball Association player and broadcaster; and Kurt Yaeger, an American actor who appeared on the TV series Sons of Anarchy and NCIS.

Athletes then competed in the triathlon challenge consisting of a 1-mile swim, 10-mile run and 44-mile biking course. Activities also included a 5K fitness walk, kids’ run and fun zone.  

“They call it the ‘Best Day in Tri’ for a reason,” Billy Lister, a member of National Paralympics cycling team, told O&P News. “It brings individuals with disabilities of all ages, from all over the world, together.”

“There are people of all experiences, whether they are just beginning or have been doing this for 10 years,” Jamie Whitmore, U.S. Paralympic cycling member, added. Lister and Whitmore are both 4-year CAF participants with lower-limb paralysis and drop foot.

Honoring leaders

Recipients of this year’s awards were also acknowledged during the event. Eric McElvenny, who lost his right leg in Afghanistan before going on to win two triathlons, won the Most Inspirational Award.

David Wagner, a quadriplegic at the age of 21 years who went on to three consecutive Paralympic showings and now holds 14 Grand Slam titles, won the Exceptional Athletic Performance Award.

Lucas and Noah Aldridge, who have shown dedication to sports in the face of Lucas’s lissencephaly — a condition that restricts him from walking or talking — won the Rising Star Award.

John Campbell, who has donated thousands of dollars for the hotel expenses of CAF families, won the Jim MacLaren Award; and Christiaan Bailey, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a skateboarding accident before becoming the first paralyzed World Surfing Association National Champion, won the Trailblazer Award.

“It is funny because these awards are not really about us. They are about the beginning of a sporting movement,” Bailey said. “What [CAF] is doing is deeply important in so many ways. They are not just giving away grants, they are giving away dreams.”

A look ahead

Total funds raised were estimated at more than $1.64 million, which will provide adaptive equipment, training and travel expenses to challenged athletes, as well as mentoring programs and sports clinics.

Next year, the event will be held at the same venue. Beginning in 2016, the triathlon will be recognized as an official Paralympic game in Rio.

 “This weekend will change your life,” Lister said before pedaling off to the bike race. “It will show you that a 4-year-old kid who just lost his leg can get up and do something. It will show that individuals with paralysis can find their lives again, and it will show you that anything is possible.” – by Shawn M. Carter


San Diego Triathlon Challenge. Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge; Oct. 18, 2015; San Diego.

Disclosures: The sources report no relevant financial disclosures.

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