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CAF SDTC 2014: The Best Day in Tri

It is called “the best day in triathlon,” and for good reason: camaraderie, smiles, and support abound. It is a misnomer, however, to call it the best “day” because the festivities surrounding the Challenged Athletes Foundation’s (CAF’s) Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC) last a weekend. An open water swim clinic and kids surf clinic were held at La Jolla Shores, California, on Friday morning, October 17; the Össur Leg Amputee Running and Mobility Clinic was held the following morning at the Deni & Jeff Jacobs Challenged Athletes Center, San Diego; and the SDTC was held on Sunday, October 19.

Sam works on gaining his balance on the surfboard. Photographs by Laura Fonda Hochnadel.

The kids surf clinic is now in its third year, and it keeps growing, said Jenna Novotny, CAF senior marketing manager. “There are more new kids than ever.”

One standout at the event was Sam Day, who lost his left leg below the knee three years ago to cancer. “It’s really fun because I can be with kids that are amputees like me,” he said. He dragged the surfboard out time and again, and through continued perseverance managed to gain his balance and stand up on the board multiple times. At the end of the clinic, several instructors hoisted Sam on their shoulders and carried him to shore triumphantly.

For one of the exercises during the advanced running clinic, participants focus on raising their knees high with each step.

Now in its 21st year, the SDTC is one of CAF’s signature fundraising events, and is held in conjunction with the four-and-a-half-hour-long spin cycle Tour de Cove and the 5K Fitness Walk. Another signature fundraising event, the Million Dollar Challenge, in which a group of able-bodied athletes and individuals with disabilities cycle 620 miles down the California coastline from San Francisco to San Diego, began the prior weekend, and ended Friday, when the riders rolled to a stop at Kellogg Park, La Jolla Shores, during the meet-and-greet picnic that was held after the swim and surf clinic.

The SDTC features a one-mile swim, a 44-mile bike ride, and a ten-mile run, which can be completed by relay teams or individually.

More than $2.5 million was raised across all four fundraisers-money that will be distributed to challenged athletes via an application program, and which can be used to fund coaching/training fees, such as gym membership and coaching costs; competition expenses, such as entry fees, flights, and lodging for an event; or equipment. So far, CAF has raised more than $55 million during the past 21 years and has provided more than 9,500 grants across dozens of countries. Ella Rodriguez, one of this year’s grant recipients, was given a running leg; she participated in both the surf and running clinics. Ten-year-old Brian Douglas, another grant recipient, was awarded travel expenses so he could come from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to participate in his first SDTC. He completed the half-mile swim in 20 minutes and also participated in the kids run.

This year, the SDTC drew about 200 challenged athletes, who competed with more than 500 able-bodied athletes. Dates for the 2015 SDTC have not been set.