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Challenged Athletes Foundation

United Nations Headquarters | World Youth Report Launch
July 15, 2016 | Kristin Duquette

Kristin Duquette is a CAF supported swimmer who competes in the S3 class with Muscular Dystrophy. She is also a contributor to the Huffington Post, former intern at the United States Senate, former Goldman Sachs Scholar and current representative for the Academic Council on the United Nations System. With support from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, Kristin continues to live out her passion and is focusing on open ocean swims and triathlons. Kristin recently had the opportunity to speak at the United Nations; read her speech below about the ability inherent in all people, including the physically challenged.

Good Afternoon. I’d like to thank the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs for inviting me to speak about the importance of sport and community engagement with the launch of the UN World Youth Report. It is an honor to be here today.  kd pic 1

Sport has the ability to unite us when our world is most divided. On an international level, we see the creation of a refugee team for this year’s Olympic Games. On a national level, we witnessed Nelson Mandela uniting his country post-apartheid with rugby and on a local level, we see communities play together during war and in post disaster situations. Sport and physical activity provides numerous benefits and crosses all barriers such as economic status, gender, race, religion, and political ideology while celebrating our humanity – our bodies, character, the human spirit, and all abilities, including people with disabilities who participate in adaptive physical education, the Special Olympics, Deaflympics, or the Paralympic Games. But the true responsibility to promote inclusion and harmony lies within each one of us: to use sport as a tool for community growth and unity, specifically with vulnerable groups such as women, and individuals with disabilities.

Research has shown that youth, “with disabilities are nearly 4.5 times less likely to be active than their peers without disabilities” and the barriers for young girls and women with disabilities are staggering[1]. “Imagine the barriers a girl faces if she has a disability, lives in poverty and comes from a racial or ethnic minority group. And what about when society says she cannot have the same opportunities as the boys?”[2] “Women with disabilities face dual discrimination when it comes to experiencing the benefits of sport due to discrimination, stigma, negative perceptions based on societal and cultural standards to lack of opportunities and community support.”[3] As a female athlete with a disability, I experienced my own discrimination when the head coach asked me to leave my collegiate swim team due to my disability. In my early years of competing officials saw my wheelchair and mistook me as an audience member rather than a competitive athlete. I’ve even had swimmers ask me how I’m even an “athlete” minutes before I raced.kf pic 2

Discrimination is not selective and can be experienced by everyone, including world-class athletes. Put another way, discrimination itself does not discriminate. Therefore, it is not surprising that the majority of young girls with disabilities struggle with their identity in relation to society’s standards. Athletic participation, however, challenges typical stereotypes and can provide a wealth of confidence when an athlete is fully supported. And I can personally attest that there is nothing quite as empowering as breaking down stereotypes and having others finally view you as you’ve always viewed yourself.

A recommendation I would offer to the UN system would be to promote and engage organizations supporting athletes with disabilities. Providing community support establishes the foundation for women and young girls with disabilities to succeed not just in athletics, but also in daily life. Global organizations can provide the impetus for this. For instance, organizations like The Challenged Athletes Foundation, provides monetary and social support for travel, proper training, equipment, mentorship and competition for athletes on all levels – from play and recreation to elite status.[4] This support is crucial for women and young girls with disabilities, creating a positive atmosphere that promotes personal growth and confidence. Support from disability sport organizations played a vital role in my athletic career. I know for a fact that I would not have broken multiple American swimming records and represented Team USA on an international level without the support from The Challenged Athletes Foundation. More importantly, beyond the laps and record breaking times, I felt like I belonged to a community where I was accepted and valued by my peers.

In order to recognize what female athletes with disabilities can accomplish, they need to be seen. The media needs to embrace female athletes with disabilities. This includes more primetime coverage of the Paralympic Games and adapted sport events here in the United States and around the world. These athletes can no longer be overlooked by media companies as the disability community is a major consumer audience. Female athletes with disabilities need and deserve a presence on our TV screens and in social media as well. We need to see their physical and character strength in order for future generations to embrace girls and women with disabilities. Women are capable of being community and global leaders, including women with disabilities, and we have the ability to make this paradigm shift within our communities.  I would have engaged in disability sports at an earlier age if I saw women with disabilities swimming competitively on my TV and embraced by the media. I have lived the saying, “If I can see one, I can be one” and I know young girls feel the same way too.kf pic 3

It is up to all of us, both with and without disabilities, to make others feel included and valued in our communities. We have the power to break down barriers, remove fear, and provide love and respect to all based on their humanness. When an athlete grows in confidence and establishes a strong sense of self, she is more likely to contribute to the community and feel valued. We all have a responsibility and duty to engage everyone in community life, and through sport, we can unite diverse populations, including people with disabilities.

This is why the World Youth Report on Youth Civic Engagement is so important. The report emphasizes and highlights the power of sport and the inclusion of youth with disabilities in sport and all aspects of everyday life. This is what it means to be human. To be involved, valued, and engaged. Again, it is up to all of us to move in the direction toward fully inclusive, active, and healthy communities around the world.

It is truly such an honor to be here today, and thank you for all the good work you continue to do to promote the health and welfare of young people around the world.

Thank You.

You can watch Kristin’s speech on video here. She starts speaking at the 5:15 mark-


[1] Women with Disability in Sport, 2016. Rep. Lakeshore Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 July 2016.

[2] NCPAD. “Inclusion by Design Impact Awards: The Issue.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 Dec. 2015. Web. 06 July 2016.

[3] Women with Disability in Sport, 2016. Rep. Lakeshore Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 July 2016.

[4] “The Cause.” Home. The Challenged Athletes Foundation. Web. 06 July 2016.

ken wheatley 1San Diego, CA – June 27, 2016 – The Challenged Athletes Foundation® (CAF) has announced the hire of Ken Wheatley as its new CEO, effective immediately.

The San Diego-based organization provides opportunities and support to people with physical challenges, so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics. CAF believes that involvement in sports at any level increases self-esteem, encourages independence and enhances quality of life.

During the last eight months of serving as CAF’s interim CEO, CAF Board of Directors member Bill Geppert provided the leadership, knowledge and commitment to execute CAF’s strategic goals to further help challenged athletes worldwide, while spearheading the search for CAF’s permanent CEO.

“It was a privilege to have led such a wonderful organization, and I am grateful to the CAF Board of Directors and staff for allowing me the opportunity,” said CAF Interim CEO Bill Geppert. “I am excited to pass the baton to such an accomplished professional who will lead CAF into a bright future.”

Ken Wheatley joins the CAF team after holding numerous leadership roles. He retired as a Senior Vice President with Sony Electronics after a 24-year career, and prior to that he was an FBI Special Agent. He’s a 1995 LEAD San Diego graduate and has served on a number of Boards and international advisory groups, such as the Red Cross, the Boys and Girls Club, Chairman and President of the Mid-County Transportation Management Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, International Organization of Standards in Geneva, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, and President of the International Security Management Association. Most recently, he served for four years, as the Co-Director for the California Chapter of the Washington DC-based Lung Cancer Alliance nonprofit.

Wheatley graduated Summa Cum Laude with his Master’s degree from Webster University and received his undergraduate degree from Florida International University. He’s also attended senior executive education programs with the Harvard JFK School of Government, University of Michigan Business School, and Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

“I’m excited and deeply appreciative for the opportunity to join an organization that is positively changing the lives of thousands of people around the world,” said CAF CEO Ken Wheatley. “CAF has a great history, and I look forward to continue to support and execute its mission to help get individuals with physical challenges back into the game of life through sports and physical fitness.”

Dear Life,

Ten years ago, Stuart and I went to the doctor to find out what the gender was of our fifth child.  We were so excited! After having four boys, we were secretly hoping for a girl, but absolutely knew that having a fifth boy would be awesome! Driving to the ultrasound, we talked about names, and about the vacation we had planned the following week.

I was asked to come in by myself by the ultrasound tech so she could do measurements. Stuart sat outside and waited for that. With my full bladder, I waited, and waited, and waited. I didn’t suspect anything, although I did wonder why she wasn’t showing me the monitor. After quite a long while, she said she would get Stuart and the doctor.

Stuart came in, sat next to me, held my hand, and watched the doctor move the ultrasound camera all around. He watched him take extra care around the baby’s heart. The doctor was silent, and I started to get a little nervous. I didn’t understand what was going on. Stuart squeezed my hand, and kept watching the monitor.

Finally, the doctor put the ultrasound camera down for a moment, and said those fateful words “I’m sorry to tell you this, but the fetus has a birth defect called Spina Bifida.  There are signs of hydrocephalus as well as club feet on both feet.” The gender was quickly forgotten by the staff. They were only worried about one thing: letting us know that if we moved quickly we could terminate our pregnancy.

We were shocked. He let us know what to expect with a child with this disability. Words like retarded, disabled, poor quality of life, possible shorter life span, multiple surgeries, multiple hospital stays, and infections were introduced and burned our souls. We wept for our child, the child we wanted desperately.kumaka 3

We still didn’t know the gender of our child at this point. Through my tears, I said “We are keeping our baby.  This is our BABY, not a fetus.  Please tell me if the baby is a boy or a girl.”

He said “The fetus is a boy”. I had to ask the doctor for a photo before he left. They printed one of his face—as if we would be so disturbed by the baby’s disability.

We were never told what our child would be able to do. Just a lot of what he wouldn’t.

Thankfully, we didn’t listen to that doctor.

We did research Spina Bifida online (Not our smartest choice).
We educated ourselves the best we could.
We reached out to others that had children with Spina Bifida.
We had our baby.

(Kumakalehua is Stuart’s Hawaiian name, and means strength or foundation of the home)
He defied the odds at birth.
He left the hospital after six days.
There were times of difficulty, surgeries, casts, infections.

But there was also joy, and happiness. At three, Kumaka was working hard in therapy and watching videos of Aaron Fotheringham on YouTube. At four, he had a pivotal moment in his young life.
He had hip surgery on both hips.

We reached out to Aaron Fotheringham who came to our house to visit our boy.

Aaron told his friend Christiaan Otter Bailey about Kumaka, and they met that summer. Christiaan saw the big heavy chair Kumaka was in and said that wasn’t going to do. He asked Mike Box if Kumaka could borrow a Mini Box chair, just to see what he could do.

What wouldn’t he do?

Over the next four years, Kumaka would ride the skate parks, surf waves, shoot at the basketball courts, wheel 5K’s, slide down the slopes on a monoski, ride a bike with his brothers, and even play soccer.  He has become an athlete, a doer, a go-getter. He tries everything. He is brave, fearless, and JOYFUL.

How does he do all of these things? Because people believe in him. People like his mentor Christiaan. People like Mike Box. Organizations like Challenged Athletes Foundation.

This October, Kumaka is wheeling the running leg of the Challenged Athletes Foundation Triathlon.  Daniel Riley, a Marine Veteran, amazing surfer, and monoskier is swimming on his team, and Tracie, a wonderful athlete and teacher is doing the bike.  Their team has set a lofty goal—to raise $10,000 for Challenged Athletes Foundation.  WHY SO MUCH?  Because they grant dreams.  They allow kids that are in wheelchairs, kids that have prosthetics, and Veterans that have come home after tragedies to be athletes: TO BELIEVE THEY CAN DO ANYTHING.  There is NOTHING more valuable in life than that. Below you will find the link to Kumaka’s page.  ANY AMOUNT YOU CAN DONATE will grant DREAMS. #TeamCAF



Be a life changer.

Grant dreams.

We were told all the things Kumaka couldn’t do.

We were never told the possibilities. 

Mom of Boys Logo

Hola One One State Street Mile
The HOKA One One State Street Mile is being held in Santa Barbara on Sunday, June 5th and for the first time ever – it will feature a Challenged Athletes Division!

The State Street Mile is a fast, downhill mile course in beautiful downtown Santa Barbara. Challenged Athletes Foundation invites you to register for the race to represent CAF and Challenged Athletes everywhere in this fun, fast race that benefits the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office Victim Witness Assistance Program.

Who: Amputee Runners
What: State Street Mile
When: Sunday, June 5th starting at 8 am with 7 age group categories, starting in 10 minute intervals.
Where: State Street & W. Pedrogosa Street in Santa Barbara
Why: It will be fun. You can help personify and share the mission of CAF. PRIZE MONEY for the top three finishers.

To register, please use this link:

For more information about the race, go to:

We hope to have a great turnout and CAF will have a booth at the expo, so stop by and hang out with other Challenged Athletes. The race is less than a month away, so register soon. Feel free to contact me with any questions and thank you for your support of CAF!

Because of you, a record breaking number of grants were awarded in 2016 – 2,098 to be exact. 2,098 lives have been changed forever. This grant season we welcomed the Team CAF Class of 2016. This class is more than just athletes. We are volunteers, we are sponsors, we are families, and we are supporters.

Above all, we redefine what’s possible. We are Team CAF. 

Follow your team on social media by using #TeamCAF

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