The CAF SDTC: More than a Experience

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Fifteen years ago, a group of friends held a triathlon fundraiser in La Jolla, California, to help disabled endurance-sports legend Jim MacLaren regain his independence after a devastating accident. Soon after, they formed the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), with the mission of providing "opportunities and support to people with physical disabilities so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics." Today, the Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC) is not just a race, but a weekend-long experience in which CAF celebrates and accelerates the aspirations of people with disabilities, and it remains CAF's biggest fundraiser.

Runners give their all in the Challenged Athletes Kids Run.
Runners give their all in the Challenged Athletes Kids Run.

On Friday, October 24, more than 100 cyclists completed the Qualcomm Million Dollar Challenge (QMDC), an epic 600-mile, seven-day journey from San Francisco to San Diego. Participants each raised at least $10,000 to be part of the ride. 

On Saturday, October 25, Ossur Americas, Aliso Viejo, California, hosted a CAF mobility clinic. Nearly 70 persons with lower-limb amputations attended the clinic, led by gait specialist Bob Gailey, PhD, PT. Three-time Ironman World Champion in the wheelchair division, Carlos Moleda, led a triathlon clinic for wheelchair athletes, and endurance sports legend "One Arm" Willie Stewart led an arm-amputee triathlon clinic.

At 7 a.m. on Sunday, October 26, 136 challenged athletes, CAF-funded children, and military personnel in the Wounded Warrior Project stepped onstage at La Jolla Cove for their introduction to enthusiastic crowds. There, Tabi King, director of marketing for Ossur Americas, and Ironman World Championship finisher Kelly Bruno surprised nine-year-old Hannah Messick with her first prosthetic running foot. Later, Tricia Downing, a paraplegic Ironman athlete and CAF spokesperson, presented Kristina Ripatti-Pearce, an LAPD officer shot and paralyzed in the line of duty, with a new handcycle.

"I was honored to receive the handcycle from CAF, and it was very cool to have it presented to me by Tricia Downing," Ripatti-Pearce said. "Tricia has been a motivating force and role model to me."

While cyclists and runners powered through their courses along the coast, events such as the Challenged Athletes Kids Run kept attendees excited and inspired. Throughout the morning, the Tour de Cove Spinathon had dozens of fundraisers on stationary bikes, riding for up to 4½ hours to pumped-up music and MCs.

Notable competitors in the swimming, cycling, and running portions of the triathlon included Matthew Broderick, star of The Producers ; U.S. Paralympic gold medalists Rudy Garcia-Tolson (swimming), Roy Perkins Jr. (swimming), and Oscar "Oz" Sanchez (hand cycling); and triathlon legends Scott Tinley (two-time Ironman World Champion), and Mark Allen (six-time Ironman World Champion).

Special awards were also presented:

  • Aspen Medical Products Most Inspirational Athletes: Rudy Garcia-Tolson and Roy Perkins Jr.
  • Jim MacLaren Award: Scott Stackman, the driving force behind CAF's Heroes, Heart, and Hope gala in New York City, which has raised in excess of $1.2 million over the past two years.
  • Sempra Energy Trailblazer Award: Evan Morgan, who lost both legs and his sight in one eye when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded under his vehicle in Iraq.
  • Rising Star Award: Brendan Driscoll, an active athlete racing toward a promising future.
  • Top individual fundraiser: Husband-and-wife team Dick Lansing and Carleen Kreider, who raised an astounding $427,650.
  • Top three SDTC fundraising teams: Team Tommy, $27,950; Team Ezra, $14,621; Aspen Medical Products, $13,855.

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