How the Challenged Athletes Foundation began

Video Details

The story of how the Challenged Athletes Foundation was founded.

[MUSIC PLAYING] - Everything for us started with Jim MacLaren. He was a 300-pound football player at Yale. And in 1985, he was in New York City, going to acting classes on his motorcycle, and a New York City bus hit his motorcycle, threw him 90 feet in the air, dead on arrival. They chalked his body on the ground. He lived. Lost his lower left leg in the accident, and reinvented himself.

- And Jimmy took to the sport of triathlons to try to get his life back in order. And in 1992, he did his first Iron Man.

- And Jimmy went 10 hours and 42 minutes at the Ironman World Championship, which is top 20% of everybody in the race. So it wasn't about some challenged athlete guy participating. It was a challenged athlete guy kicking butt and taking names and showing that if you gave him a piece of equipment, he could compete on a level playing field.

So flash ahead eight years. Jimmy is racing in Mission Viejo, and a van goes through a closed intersection, hits the back of his bike, propels him headfirst into a pole, and he becomes a quadriplegic.

JEFFREY ESSAKOW: He really needed a significant amount of money to buy a adaptive motor vehicle. He had a little bit of movement still in his hands.

- So myself, Jeffrey Essakow, and Rick Koslowski-- three friends here in San Diego-- decided we were going to put on a little triathlon at La Jolla Cove, and we were going to raise $25,000 to buy Jimmy a van that has hand controls, to give them that independence. That was it. That's what we wanted to do.

JEFFREY ESSAKOW: We had 22 people who showed up for the event. We each kicked in a couple of hundred bucks each for entry fees. We got some corporate sponsorship. Did the event. Everybody finished. And we ended up raising $49,000. Mission accomplished, right?

- Thought our job was done. Three of the amputee women who participated in the race came up to us afterwards and said, you know, Jimmy's the reason we got into endurance sports. But did you know if you get injured, your health insurance will cover a walking-around leg or an everyday wheelchair, but anything to do with sports is considered a luxury item. It's not covered by your insurance, which we had no idea.

- And so the mission and our vision statement started unfolding, which was we want to help people get back into the game of life through sport.

BOB BABBITT: So our goal became to start the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and if anybody needed a piece of equipment, training, or travel to stay in the game of life through sports, that we'd be there.

- We believe that through sports you gain independence, you gain self-esteem. And so the foundation, back 25 years ago, started unfolding.

- In our first 25 years, we've sent out 23,000 grants. We've raised over $95 million dollars. Just this year, we sent out 2,806 grants totaling $4.3 million to athletes in 40 countries, 48 states, for 95 different sports.

- The role we want to continue playing is to be the spokesperson, to be the voice, to be the eyes and the ears for our challenged athletes so that they know that they have a body and an organization and a group of people that will constantly be fighting for them to make sure that we can continue providing them the needs to continue to being independent.