What does this mean?
Challenge: a call to engage in a contest or fight.
Athlete: a person trained to compete in sports.
I have had the honor to both work with and become friends with many athletes over the years. The athletes I have worked with have varied in abilities and goals. They have been young and not so young. Some in a place of life where money is not a problem and some who struggle from race to race. All said, I feel that I have seen both ends of the spectrum. The one common denominator in all of them is their drive and determination.
Over the years, the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) has given me an even better view of what all this means. Living in Southern California close to the CAF headquarters and having the skillset to aid athletes with their bikes, I have been able to help where possible. I really liked being able to help but always kept my involvement at that level. I encouraged, wrenched and offered expertise where I could but never looked much deeper than that. I was happy to be of service and equally happy to watch athletes finding ways to get to where and what they wanted.
2014 and 2015 have been incredible years for me. I have become even more involved with the San Diego Velo Youth, I completed the Race Across America (RAAM), I crewed the first ever Adapted Athlete Team at the Silver State 508 and I was given the gift to ride in the Million Dollar Challenge with Team Chase and Lance Weir. Any one of these alone could have made my year but putting them all together added a great deal of perspective and learning to my life.
I have been an athlete all my life in many different sports and have found success in some. As an athlete I have had challenges, injuries, setbacks and ups and downs while maintaining my belief in myself. I have been able to overcome these obstacles with the help of friends and the belief that if I fought hard enough for long enough I would get to my goals.
This last year, I have met many Athletes through CAF who have had fights of their own. Unlike the fights and struggles I have had, these athletes have had to fight ( in many cases ) for their lives. Then they have had to fight to find the new athletes that they will become. This part I know nothing about other than what I have seen and heard from the athletes themselves. Again the struggles varied and some much more severe than others but in each case and in each athlete's story there are two consistent themes I hear over and over. First, an athlete's desire and determination can never under any circumstances be extinguished if they don't let it; there are times I'm sure when it has gone dim but never gone out. Second, every Athlete needs help! That help might come from a friend with shared experiences, a training partner that motivates you when you need it or for some of the help that I have witnessed CAF offer over the years. That help has ranged from putting athletes in touch with one another to a new chair or prosthesis.
I am so blessed to be part of CAF and what will keep me involved for the rest of my life, is knowing that their gift to all the athletes they touch is fuel. CAF adds fuel to that dim flame and helps to reignite the athlete inside everyone they touch “challenged” or not. You cannot meet a challenged athlete without seeing the grit and strength they possess. The glow of that flame beams out of them and warms you after meeting them. There is no better gift than giving and that gift goes forward over and over. Thank you Team Chase, Bill and Lori Walton and CAF for all the warmth.