Challenged Athletes Foundation and its positive impact on people with limb differences

17th March 2022

The Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) was founded in 1994 by Jim MacLaren.  After losing his leg in a motorcycle accident, Jim became a pioneer, achieving feats that others never thought possible for amputees.  Since its creation, CAF has reached over 20 million people worldwide with over 30,000 grants awarded.  CAF helps to support individuals with physical challenges who want to get involved in sports and become more active.  You don’t have to be a professional athlete to participate in CAF events.  They support all levels and ages. 

Running along side PossAbilities athlete Zimri Solis as his shadow in the CAF triathlon

Growing up an athlete myself, and competing at division one and semi-professional level, mobility and athletics has always been a necessity in my life.  I went into the prosthetic and orthotic field so I could have the ability to restore mobility in those who had lost it, or were born with limb differences.  During my graduate education I began to participate in triathlons, which led me to CAF as a volunteer.  Within triathlons I found amazing communities for disabled athletes.  This started with the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), and PossAbilities when I began competing in their annual triathlons.  I would participate in the annual running clinic for CAF that was always hosted the day before the annual triathlon, and then volunteer in the triathlon as well.  I had served as an athlete shadow on multiple occasions.  This means I either run, swim, or bike alongside the athlete to provide assistance and extra safety.  For hand cyclists, they need a shadow for safety as they are very low to the ground.  I would ride alongside them during the race so that they are visible to traffic. For running, as a shadow I would help the athletes keep their desired pace as well as provide motivation and be there for any adjustment/cramps, ect.

Riding as a shadow to protect hand cyclists for PossAbilities in Tour de Palm Springs

Having a career in the O&P field means that disabilities are a part of my everyday life.  Because of this, it is easy for me to forget that the outside world does not experience this at the same level.  Though I cannot offer a direct insight for what it is like growing up with disabilities, as a pediatric specialist in the O&P field I would hear a lot about what it is like from the perspective of my patients.  Children with limb differences or other physical disabilities are often one of the few, if not the only one at their school with such.  So to them, they are recognized as being different.  A moment in my career I will never forget was when I had a young patient come in for a follow up appointment on a lower limb prosthesis fitting.  The young patient who is normally smiling and twirling around my office had their head dropped and just sat in my chair.  I asked what was wrong and the mom told me they were sad because a girl at their school called them a robot.  Hearing this and seeing how sad it made my patient broke my heart.  

It is amazing to see the community come together and to watch kids find friends that are just like them.  Everyone wants to feel accepted in this world and my experience has shown that CAF and similar foundations bring this to children with limb differences.

This experience reminded me how important it is for people to have a community that doesn’t isolate them and think of them as different.  Throughout my many years of volunteering with CAF and foundations similar, I got to experience first hand what it was like for children and adults with limb differences to come together in a community and feel a true sense of belonging.  Parents would tell me all the time how important these events were for their children and that they would make lifelong friendships at the events. 

Brazilian athletes in town to compete in the CAF triathlon

Not only does CAF provide opportunities to bring communities together, but they also help support athletes and children in need to obtain the equipment they need to participate in adaptive sports.  

“It is the mission of the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) to provide opportunities and support to people with physical challenges, so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics. The Challenged Athletes Foundation believes that involvement in sports at any level increases self-esteem, encourages independence and enhances quality of life.”

Though their annual triathlon in San Diego is their biggest event, CAF hosts events year round throughout the country.  These events range from galas and fundraisers to biking events, camps, sports clinics, bike events, and even some virtual events. All their events can be found on their website.  

If you have not yet been to a CAF event, it is something I would strongly recommend.  It is amazing to see the community come together and to watch kids find friends that are just like them.  Everyone wants to feel accepted in this world and my experience has shown that CAF and similar foundations bring this to children with limb differences.

Author – Elise Griset

Born and raised in Golden, Colorado Elise works as an in-house Prosthetist at Open Bionics. She is an ABC Certified Prosthetist and Orthotist who received her Masters in Orthotics and Prosthetics from Loma Linda University. She completed her residency in San Diego, CA where shortly after she worked to develop a pediatric specialist team to work with Rady’s Children’s Hospital. In 2019, Elise found her way back home and worked at the Children’s Hospital Colorado. Here she was able to establish a team approach to patient care, working directly in the clinics with doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and wider medical teams. You will likely meet Elise if you are coming to get your Hero Arm fitted at our Denver clinic.

Meet Elise