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Challenged Athletes Foundation

May 31st,2014 started like any other race day morning: an extremely early wake up call, a double and triple check of my car for all my triathlon race essentials, then a drive down to the race site before sunrise. Even though I had pinned on a race bib over 175 times, I still yearned for the thrill of competition, the exhilaration of pushing myself to my limits, and challenging myself in ways I never thought possible. Racing and competition was an addiction I could not shake.

This morning was a short sprint triathlon, an event that I had won the year prior.   I liked to call myself an “experienced” triathlete; when I came out of the water 4th in my wave (my weakest of the three segments) and could still see the three folks in front of me…it was on. It was so “on” that I forgot my cycling shoes in my car! I had to race the entire bike portion of the race without my cycling shoes clipped in like some triathlon newbie that had never raced before, let alone over 175 times, including winning here the previous year! Yes, May 31st, 2014 started like any other, but little did I know the last triathlon race of my able-bodied career would be so memorable.

GLEN PIC 1In sports and in life, we must live life through the windshield and not the rearview mirror. Bad things happen to all of us, but we must find a way to pick up the pieces and move on.

June 12th, 2014 was just another training day morning. A very early wake up call, getting dressed, grabbing my tri-bike and getting out the door before 5 AM in order to ride 40+ miles before work. 34 miles into the ride is when that day changed my life forever. You see, a year prior I was fortunate to be on the cover of Runner’s World Magazine, less than one month before I finished my 5th Ironman race. I was getting ready for another, and in the absolute best shape of my life.   At mile 34 of a ride I had completed over one hundred times, a vehicle made an illegal U-turn—we collided and I was instantly paralyzed from the chest down. I spent the next three months in the hospital trying to figure out exactly what just happened and what was next.

Among the things that was “next” for me was finding a new way to compete and return to doing what I loved with the people that had helped me overcome so much. As I was lying in the hospital I found an organization whose mission statement was “to provide opportunities and support to people with physical challenges so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics.” I was intrigued. I did a little more research and happened to meet an athlete that had a very successful career as a hand cyclist; as I heard him talk and explain how he got into the sport and how it changed his life, it was as if he was foreshadowing what was to come for me. I was hooked without even trying a hand cycle. I knew this was for me; I knew this was for me even though I had never bothered pushing my upper body strength. In the rehab facility I had to learn and retrain my body to do everything—I was “building” strength by using the purple and pink weights…yes, the one and two pounders.

In case you haven’t guessed, I was referring to the Challenged Athletes Foundation. I applied immediately for a grant that supports individuals like myself. This was one of the BEST decisions I could have made. I received my hand cycle in February, 2015 and had my sights set on racing at a few local events to get prepared, but my sights were truly set on returning to my very first race where it all started over 175 races ago at the 2016 New York City Marathon! Arriving at the start line last fall was as if nothing had changed. The day before routine was almost the same, the pre-race routine was almost the same, then finally, there I was with over 45,000 of my closest friends, all of us striving for our own personal goals: to simply overcome an obstacle. We encouraged one another along the way, waiting for the magic of the finish line…which wasn’t the same at all—it was better! I finished 10th overall, and proceeded to race both the Philadelphia and LA Marathon over the winter where I placed 3rd respectively in each!

GLEN PIC 2

The past two years have certainly been a whirlwind of emotions, a lot of new firsts that I could have never imagined in a million years. The multisport world brings out the best in everybody. I can’t thank my family, friends and fellow athletes for the continuous support since the accident. I won’t wait for something magical to happen if I can make something happen!

Boy Without Legs is a blog series about one of our outstanding CAF athletes, Paco Torres, and his journey into the disabled sports community. Join us as Paco recounts his journey from “the most disabled person he knew” to an elite wheelchair rugby player in a community of adaptive athletes.

paco part 2Fast forward to 2015. My former girlfriend Emily and I are happily married, my kids are older, and a Danish man who looks like the actor Chris Elliot randomly shows up at our basketball practice. He said he was there to play basketball, but his lack of arm strength made us question his motives.

At the end of practice, he came up to me and said, “You need to try wheelchair rugby. We practice Saturday mornings“. I politely declined, “No, I spend that time with my kids.” He came to the next practice and urged me again. I declined again. By the 3rd week of him coming to basketball practice, I finally said, “OK.”

I had a lot of fears before I even started. I didn’t think I could handle the sport, I wasn’t sure I would fit in with a group of college-age guys, and I felt like I was abandoning my kids. Though I knew my wife could handle them, I had never left them alone with her, and I thought they would be upset (It turns out they barely noticed I was gone)!

So Saturday morning, my wife watched the kids while I went to try out for the team. I got there at 9 am, as they had suggested, and quickly learned a new term: “Quad Time.” Between the massive amount of equipment they need and the limited function they have in their arms and legs (mostly due to spinal cord injuries), it took an hour for them to get ready. By 10am, we were finally on the court, ready to play.

The chair they set aside for me had giant red wheels and looked like a small armored tank – and seemed to weigh just as much! I thought, “How am I supposed to push this thing around?”

Additionally, with a deep bucket seat meant for guys with no feeling in their legs, it was very uncomfortable. I felt like a sardine crammed into a tiny tin can.

“So, in this game you are the high pointer. You carry the ball, and, if you are good, you score every play,” the coach explained to me. I didn’t understand. In basketball, I was teased for having bad hands, and now I’m being told to handle the ball in every play? In fact, they said that, if I throw the ball to anyone else, it might cause a turnover, and they didn’t want that.

So we played a game, and, besides my speed, I was really awful. I passed the ball so many times and had so many turnovers that even they started to think maybe this was a mistake. They joked about how much I dribbled and played like a basketball player, yet they insisted, “In this sport you have the best hands… You are the #1 option… Slow down… Follow your pickers… Stop throwing the ball!”

Huh? How could I be the #1 guy in this sport? I felt like a failure and had no clue why they thought I would be any good. But I didn’t give up.

paco part 2 2Not only did I keep going to practice every Saturday morning, but my wife and I drove up to Phoenix every Wednesday night so I could practice with the Phoenix Heat at Ability 360, a multi-sport facility in Phoenix.

There, I met USA Paralympian Nick Springer, a fellow amputee who took me under his wing and helped me suck less at the game. Without knowing me from a pile of bricks, he coached me on the court and made me feel as if I belonged there.

Here was a guy who lost his hands and legs to meningitis when he was 14 – and he is a Paralympic champion! He never gave up, never complained, and pushed faster than anyone else out there. After seeing him play, I knew that, with my 6 fingers, I could improve.

(Even sider note: I have informally surveyed paralyzed people and single leg amputees on which they would choose: a leg infection or amputation? No one chooses amputation. They would rather have a bad leg than none at all. And that is why I have great respect for Nick. Just like me, he never had the option. Being amputees helped us connect. Plus, we share a similar sense of humor.)

Also on the Phoenix team are Team USA Captain Joe Delagrave and former Team USA player and Phoenix coach, Scott Hogsett (who is also featured in the wheelchair rugby documentary Murderball)They taught me many of the finer points of wheelchair rugby. I learned to move my “tank” like a nimble wrecking ball and stopped dribbling the ball all the time. I still wasn’t the best player when it came to strategy, but I got a better sense of my abilities and gained confidence in working with my teammates.

As the summer ended, I had the option of joining 3 teams: the University of Arizona, the Phoenix Heat, and the Tucson Renegades. I decided to join the Tucson Renegades – not only because they are in Tucson but also because I would be playing with 4 Team USA players: Chad CohnJosh WheelerDerrick Helton, and Adam Scaturro. The Danish guy, Leon “The Professional” Jorgensen, had gone back home to play on the Danish team, so there was room on the Renegades for a short guy with some speed.

The Renegades gladly took me under their wing and, to my surprise, asked me to join them in Phoenix to train in a closed session with Team USA. I wasn’t being considered for the team, but I would act as a developmental player and learn from the other players and staff.

Boy Without Legs is a blog series about one of our outstanding CAF athletes, Paco Torres, and his journey into the disabled sports community. Join us as Paco recounts his journey from “the most disabled person he knew” to an elite wheelchair rugby player in a community of adaptive athletes.

Paco part 1Back in 2009, I was alone in a bar near the University of Arizona, talking to my then-girlfriend on the phone. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw 3 guys in wheelchairs playing pool. For whatever reason I thought, I should talk to these guys. So I finished my beer, stumbled off the bar stool, and glided over to them on my skateboard.

“Hey, do you guys play any sports for the U of A?”

They seemed surprised – probably not by my question but that some dude with no legs had just rolled up to them on a skateboard (Side note: Even in the disability world, I get stared at for not being in a wheelchair). They looked me up and down, smiled at the idea, and said, “Yeah, give us your number, and we’ll call you.”

I thought, Damn, I sound like a fool. I’m an old guy, out of shape, don’t even have a wheelchair, and I think I can just join a university athletic team – like I’m Rudy? I figured they would lose my number, and I’d never get a chance to play. To my surprise, they called me a few days later: “We have open try-outs, so just come by the U of A on Wednesday or Saturday mornings, and we’ll get you a chair.”

My heart sank.

Choosing between what you want to do and want you need to do for your family can be tough. It’s hard to know which one is right, and sometimes being selfish can work out for everyone. However, with a full-time job, custody of my 4- and 6-year old daughters on the weekend, and no childcare back-up plan, I couldn’t see how I would squeeze in rugby practice. I told them I couldn’t make it.

Playing wheelchair basketball at Ability 360 gym

Not long after, a DIII men’s wheelchair basketball team, the Tucson Lobos, invited me to play with them. With Tuesday and Thursday night practices that were close to my office, I could make this work.

For 5 years, I played with the Lobos – improving in every area, except shooting. Our coach would laugh at me, saying that, with only 4 fingers on one hand and 2 on the other, I really didn’t have the hands for basketball. He suggested I play wheelchair rugby.

I continued to play wheelchair basketball.

Ever wonder what sort of people are the ones behind the scenes at Challenged Athletes Foundation? Meet one of our passionate and dedicated employees, Jason Karavidas, Manager of Business Development. Jason is also an accomplished duathlete and triathlete and shares his experiences outside of the CAF Headquarters.

jason 2Though the title of my blog would imply some inspiring story of overcoming adversity, my long road actually refers to the 1,000-plus mile drive to get up to Bend, Oregon, from San Diego. Self-imposed adversity, I suppose, since it was my bright idea to drive and even brighter idea to take the scenic (but dreadfully slow) route up the California coast, but making my out-of-town races at least resemble a vacation has been a great way to rationalize with my wife Christine why I spend so much time training and racing. And this trip is already worth it.

Only 11 hours to go!

Making this a family road trip rather than a purely race-focused mission also helps me relax and take my mind off of stress from work, the upcoming run/bike/run, and really a lot of my daily responsibilities. A true vacation! Not like I can respond to emails while spending the vast majority of my last two days in the driver’s seat. When not driving, we got to be tourists stopping off at whatever looked interesting. Tour de LA traffic, Morro Bay (aka giant rock photo op), Hearst Castle (well, just the parking lot — dogs in the castle are frowned upon), elephant seals in San Simeon (did you know male seals can weigh up to 5,000 pounds???), Bixby Creek Bridge (a staple in car commercials), Lake Shasta (no clever thoughts here) and one weird rest stop somewhere before the Oregon border.

USA Triathlon Duathlon Nationals in Bend will be my third National Championship event, and one I’ve been looking forward to since the location was announced last year. The visits to Tucson and St. Paul were both incredible experiences with great venues, atmospheres and results. My sprint race in Arizona qualified me to go to Spain with Team USA, and no complaints were heard from Christine there between Pontevedra and Madrid (especially because that’s where we got engaged … and no, not at the finish line!).

jason 1Win, lose or DNF I’ll be happy with our Bend trip (slightly less happy with a DNF). My speed work has been on point, I was able to shake out with a little run yesterday, and just got back from a course preview on the bike (you guys/girls ready for a nice climb???), and now can rest up and enjoy some of the great stuff USAT has in store for athletes and visitors this week. Looking forward to representing my home town RIDE Triathlon Team come Saturday, and of course, crossing the finish line with my family cheering me on.

Jason ended up finishing 2nd in his age group and 4th overall, securing his invitations to 2017 Worlds in Penticton, Canada!

Follow Jason on Instagram (@jasontri) and Twitter (@hey_jmoney).

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- http://webtv.un.org/watch/launch-of-the-world-youth-report-entitled-youth-civic-engagement/5037493690001#full-text

 

[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.

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