Every once in awhile I hear a story that so touches me, I feel the need to share it.
In 1985, Jim MacLaren, an all-American defensive tackle, lost a leg in a motorcycle accident. He reinvented himself into an endurance athlete and competed with able-bodied athletes in the Ironman World Championships in 1992, finishing in 10:42. Unfortunately, in 1993, tragedy struck again – a van veered onto the Orange Country Performing Arts triathlon course and struck Jim, who became a quadriplegic.
A group of friends in San Diego rallied to raise money and provide emotional support to Jim, who needed to re-configure every aspect of his life to accommodate wheelchair-living.
Flash forward to today. What started with a few good friends helping Jim MacLaren has now become the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). This non-profit organization, whose stated mission is “to provide opportunities and support to people with physical disabilities so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics,” has raised more than $11 million to help athletes get back into the game.
CAF has changed thousands of lives over the years and recently, they took their show on the road. They went to Haiti, where over 2000 people (many of them children) underwent amputations as a result of injuries from the January 2010 earthquake. The CAF program in Haiti is called “Return to Sport,” and it’s the result of a group of dedicated, caring people who are bringing new hope and spirit to hundreds of kids in a country where their options are very limited. Watch this video for more information on CAF’s Return to Sport program in Haiti.
We compete alongside challenged athletes with hardly a notice. Racers with one or two prosthetics, single arms, in racing chairs and/or blind racers accompanied by guides have become a common sight at today’s races. But we must never forget that each of these athletes has gone through his/her own personal hell – from accepting a new reality, understanding how to live with it, to working hard to get some of the old life back. For nearly twenty years, CAF has been there to help these athletes. This organization is changing the world, one athlete at a time and now, one Haitian kid at a time.