Richard Hunter – Report on the Challenged Athletes Event

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Challenged Athletes Foundation

San Diego Triathlon Challenge

October 21, 2012

“Event” Report


On October 21, with Justin Waller as my guide, we took part in the 19th annual Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) San Diego Triathlon Challenge. It is made clear to participants that it is an “event” and not a race.  Consequently, it is an “open” course with no road closures. There are lots of stoplights and participants clip a laminated map on their bikes to ensure wrong turns are minimized. If one was caught up in a finishing time, it would be endlessly frustrating. Yet, as one guy put it, “It’s not a race, but they still give Type “A” triathletes a bib number and a timing chip.” So…. when those we passed caught up with us at a stop, I personally enjoyed dusting them once again…. Yeah right! That would be wishful thinking as there were some amazing amputee athletes on their own bikes staying right with our borrowed tandem. It was humbling to say the least!

This event is CAF’s flagship fundraiser for the year. Never before had I met so many physically challenged athletes who passionately embrace and eagerly participate in a year-long fundraising campaign to benefit any organization.  The finish of the Million Dollar Challenge kicks off the weekend of events. Able bodied and physically challenged athletes each agree to raise $10K to take part in a one-week bike ride from San Francisco to La Jolla Cove where the triathlon was held. More than 1.4 million dollars were raised which in turn goes towards items such as adaptive equipment grants.   On race morning, we were fortunate enough to see a young boy presented with an adaptive basketball wheelchair within one-year of his little body being crushed by a dump truck.  Since I was only taking part in the triathlon, my fundraising target was much lower. I was able to raise over $1,100, thanks to many of you who supported this great cause!

One of the highlights of the weekend was the Celebration of Abilities dinner on Friday night. Wow!  I’ve never seen so many physically challenged athletes in my life!  There were over 200 PC athletes taking part in some aspect of the event.  It was also apparent how much credibility this organization has when you see celebrities and companies showing up and opening up their wallets.  CAF also recognized some amazing athletes, including 2012 London Paralympians.  Though I was surrounded by many inspirational people and wounded servicemen, the story that will stick with me the most was a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl with no legs.  She was presented with an award after this video was shown:  After watching this brief story, you’ll understand with crystal clarity why people want to take part in this event.  I sure feel lucky to have been among them.

My brother commented that he thought it would have been very difficult to be around so many people who have experienced such tragic loss. I corrected him on the spot.  “Feeling sorry” or pity for these amazing people would be beyond disrespectful. These folks are just like everyone else, but they happen to be amazing athletes who must participate with certain adaptive aids.  When you participate alongside them and talk to them, their disabilities disappear in a heartbeat. If anything, one would ask themselves, “What’s my excuse?”

I asked Justin about things that made a lasting impression on him, and, among other things, commented that it was great that there was a venue where kids can come together who have similar disabilities. He noted seeing a group of 5 children between 3 and 7 years old running around together with maybe 4 legs among them. The rest were prosthetics. My hunch is that it is GREAT for these young children to be among others who have shared a similar journey through their young lives.

Oh yeah… I also did a triathlon.  It was pretty much my excuse to be witness to the weekend of events and to meet some amazing people. I’m just thrilled I was able to share the experience with my good friend, Justin Waller, who was my first volunteer guide and who taught me the sport. I think my highlight of the triathlon was the ocean swim in which Justin guided me through a few patches of kelp, creating a lane by pushing aside the kelp to make way for me. It was a little creepy to feel the kelp drag along my body. Then, the ocean would be clear on the other side, and I couldn’t help but wonder what was lurking beneath!  I was personally inspired to see someone emerge from the water, hop up in the sand on one leg, and then hop up a long flight of stairs to the bike transition area. The other highlight was when an amputee disabled veteran on a hand cycle drafted on our rear wheel while we were going up a slight incline at about 24 mph. Oz was a beast!  As it turns out, he trains with the top Paralympic hand cyclists in the country and loves to “torment” tandem riders.

Big props go out to Dave White of the Blind Stokers Club for securing a tandem for us to borrow for the weekend. His willingness to serve the visually impaired and blind athletes made it possible for so many to participate!

Once again, I encourage everyone to check out the above video link and share in the experience. When my schedule allows, I hope to go back and do this one again!

Event Stats:

1 mile swim:  29:52

T1:  6:22

44 mile bike:  2:31:27

T2:  4:05

10 mile run:  1:25:03

Overall:  4:36:49

Place:  9th overall, 8th male, 2nd AG 45-49


Thank you for your support!

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