CAF: Changing Lives One Athlete at a Time

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By Laura Fonda Hochnadel

Athletes look on as the National Anthem was sung. Photographs by Laura Fonda Hochnadel.

Perhaps it was serendipity that brought three-year-old Nandito and his father to the Össur Leg Amputee Running and Mobility Clinic in San Diego, California, on Saturday, October 19. They just came to play at the park adjacent to where the event was held, but Nandito was able to see other children with what he calls "special legs." Nandito has spina bifida and wears AFOs, and this chance outing introduced the family to the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), which cohosts the running clinic as part of its San Diego Tri Challenge Weekend. It wasn't the differences Nandito was drawn to-the childrens' prostheses versus his AFOs-but the similarities. Here were other children with "special legs" playing and having fun.

Now in its 20th year, what was once a single-day event to raise money for one challenged athlete has grown to a weekend filled with activities and festivities that have raised about $50 million and helped more than 8,200 challenged athletes around the world. This year's Tri Challenge Weekend raised about $2.7 million through three events: the Dodge Million Dollar Challenge, a seven-day, 620-mile bicycle ride down the California coast, which ended October 18 when 100 riders including 12 challenged athletes rolled into San Diego; the 24 Hour Fitness 4.5-hour stationary-cycling Tour de Cove; and the Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC) one-mile open-water swim, 44-mile bike ride, and ten-mile run, in which more than 550 able-bodied and 200 challenged athletes participated.

Challenged-athlete swimmers get ready to start their wave at the SDTC.

Athletes of all ages and abilities partici-
pated in Össur's running and mobility clinic.

The first string of runners start off during the SDTC.

The energy was high and the music was loud during the Tour de Cove. Many wore party hats to celebrate the SDTC's 20th year.

The SDTC and the events of the day drew in the crowds; more than 5,000 spectators came to cheer on the athletes and wander the expo that spanned the northern half of Scripps Park, La Jolla. The opening ceremony began at 7 a.m. with the Parade of Athletes, in which celebrities, challenged athletes, and recent Paralympians were introduced. Five survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing were special guests this year, three of whom participated in the event. Roseann Sdoia, Heather Abbott, and Celeste Corcoran walked together at the end of the Kids' Run, their arms around each other as the crowd clapped and chanted "Boston strong."

CAF's motto is "Changing Lives One Athlete at a Time," and each athlete has a story. Here are just a few:

Wolf is "Farfrümlimpin" as he starts the ten-mile run.

Two challenged athletes high-five as they dance to the band playing at the SDTC.

The Kid's Run is always a popular draw at the SDTC.

Sarah Reinertsen welcomed the crowd at the Össur running and mobility clinic.

Three-and-a-half-year-old Dililah-Kay was born without her right leg. Her fledgling competitive spirit showed at the mobility clinic as she practiced kicking a soccer ball back and forth with a little boy. Nick and Alex Miller are 15-year-old twin boys who travelled from Florida with their parents to participate. Born 15 weeks premature, Nick has cerebral palsy and vision issues and wears orthoses; Alex underwent a transfemoral amputation of his right leg when he was several days old. Nick participated in the ten-mile run while Alex completed the swim, logging a time of just under 19 minutes. Todd Key and George Wolf, PhD, came from Arizona to participate in the SDTC. Key, an avid cyclist, permanently injured his hand when he was seven years old and is a cancer survivor who underwent a right transfemoral amputation when he was 17. Wolf, an Arizona State University, Tempe, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, lost his left leg below the knee, the result of a 2007 hang-gliding accident. He sported a T-shirt that summed up much of what the Tri Challenge Weekend is all about. It read: "Farfrümlimpin."

Dates for next year's CAF Tri Challenge Weekend have not yet been set.