Inspiration Abounds at the CAF San Diego Triathlon Challenge

By Laura Hochnadel
The answer: "Inspirational!"

From left: Cody McCasland (bib 919) and Harvey Parry (bib 906) sprint down the SDTC Kid's Run course. Harvey and his family travelled from England to attend the event.

The question: "What do you think of this?" "This," being all of the events surrounding the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC), held October 21-23: Friday night's opening reception and awards ceremony; Saturday's gait training/running, swimming, and handcycling clinics; and Sunday's Tour de Cove, Kid's Run, CAF Village, and, of course, the SDTC. "Inspirational" and "inspiring" were the two most often used words when participants, spectators, and visitors spoke of the event.

"They say 'eye opening,' but it's heart opening," said Casey Diamond while watching the gait training and running clinic for the first time. He was there to support and cheer on his stepfather, Doug Powers, 62, who, after being diagnosed with a blood clot in his leg about four years ago, underwent eight surgeries and, later, a transtibial amputation. CAF provided Powers, who said he has always "lived life like an athlete," the opportunity to again expand his athletic pursuits beyond the gym walls. "I realized I was just a kid playing on the seashore when I first came to CAF and saw these kids," he said of the cavorting children on the sea of grass before him. Some of the children and toddlers had more experience than he did running and maneuvering around on their prostheses. "Amputation gave me the opportunity to eat a plate of humility," he said.

Jennifer McCallson suffered a spinal cord injury in 1999 while a high school cheerleading instructor. Her mobility is improving on a regular basis.

But the weekend was not about humility. It was about challenge, community, and camaraderie.

This, according to CAF Business Development Coordinator Nick Roumonada, was part of the reason the SDTC was shortened to a one-mile swim, 44-mile bike ride, and 11-mile run. "The SDTC is not a competition," Roumonada said, "it is a challenge." He explained that in past years, athletes were on the course for longer hours and did not have an opportunity to enjoy the festivities and camaraderie afforded by the CAF expo village at Scripps Park, La Jolla, California. This year's shortened course was designed to allow that.

In addition to Powers, Lilia Barrs, and Alexis "Lexi" Johnson were first-timers to the CAF SDTC festivities. Johnson's experience began with Saturday's gait training and running clinic. Diagnosed with cancer in 2008, she underwent multiple limb-salvage surgeries. Despite the cancer being in remission, the pain in her right leg was excruciating, so at the age of 18, she opted to undergo a transfemoral amputation in February 2011. Johnson participated on a relay team for the SDTC, completing the swim. Later she could be found walking the expo grounds with friends and family, as could be Barrs, who has been a transtibial amputee for several years. At the encouragement of her CAF mentor, Tara Butcher, Barrs said she decided to quit letting life get in the way. With family in tow, she showed up to cheer on the athletes and stroll along the expo grounds. She said she was glad for the experience.

Another athlete who faced a challenge on Sunday was Jennifer McCallson, who is overcoming quadriplegia. She took a 90-minute spin on a stationary bike during the Tour de Cove, keeping her own steady pace. Her smile never left her face. "You are only limited by your mind," she said. And who better than a challenged athlete to share these words of wisdom?

A spectator summed up the weekend's events best when she was overheard saying, "Every athlete that's here is teaching and inspiring each other."

—Laura Hochnadel