It’s a testament to the human spirit that in the stingiest U.S. economy since the Great Depression, the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) has set another record for generosity. This year, CAF’s Access for Athletes program provided grants of equipment, training, or competition expenses to 812 athletes-more than in any previous year-across 26 nations and 48 sports, for a grand total of $1.31 million in awards. The grantees, who ranged in age from four to 69, included 45 percent of the U.S. Winter Paralympic team.
“The commitment to compete at the highest level despite the obvious challenges is the impetus to the purest and most elegant form of athleticism,” CAF said in a press release. One of the elite athletes CAF served this year was Juan Manual Geny of Bragado, Argentina, one of the ten percent of all CAF grantees who live outside of the United States. According to CAF, the once highly athletic Geny thought his life in sports was over after losing a leg following a 1993 accident. Years later, he began training as a triathlete, and using just forearm crutches and no leg prosthesis, he captured a third place finish at the 2008 BG triathlon World Championships. With the carbon-fiber running foot provided by CAF this year, Geny now plans to take his triathlon training to an even higher level.
Another aspiring champion CAF helped was Toni Ann Saia of Staten Island, New York. Saia was born with cerebral palsy that requires her to use a walker to ambulate. As a wheelchair athlete, though, she has become a force to be reckoned with, competing in archery, track and field, and swimming at the national level in her age group. This year, CAF provided her with a racing chair, giving her more options for training and competition.
The grants program touched hundreds of everyday athletes as well. One of them was Madelyn “Mei Mei” White, a six year old who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and was adopted as baby from China. Her proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD) led to her having a transfemoral amputation this year, but thanks to the CAF grant of a child-sized running foot, amputation shouldn’t stop her from enjoying an active life.
According to CAF, the grants program was funded throughout the year by a variety of CAF fundraising efforts, including the San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC) and the Heroes, Heart and Hope Gala in New York, New York.