REGION — San Diego’s Challenged Athlete Foundation® (CAF) will host its year’s biggest weekend featuring its crown jewel event, the 26th annual Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge, Oct. 18 to Oct. 20, at La Jolla’s scenic cove.
Jam-packed with weekend events for every family member, a star-studded line-up of para-athletic, professional and athletic legends and celebrities will join 5,000-plus spectators and volunteers in raising funds to empower individuals with physical challenges to succeed in sports.
The Triathlon Challenge, noted as the “best day in Tri,” will showcase 200 physically challenged athletes competing with 600 able-bodied athletes through a 1-mile ocean swim, a 44-mile bike ride and a 10-mile run.
“The weekend, which has transcended far beyond our triathlon, celebrates how the power of sports transforms lives, builds community and changes perceptions of what people with permanent physical disabilities can accomplish,” said Virginia Tinley, CAF’s chief executive director. “Funds support CAF’s mission to provide opportunities and support to those with physical challenges so they can pursue active lifestyles through fitness and competitive athletics.
“We, CAF, believe that involvement in sports increases self-esteem, encourages independence, and enhances one’s quality of life, and the San Diego Triathlon Challenge is every athlete’s chance to prove it.”
North County will celebrate two of its finest challenged athletes, Oceanside’s Hunter Pochop and Encinitas resident Sebastian Desposato. Pochop, now 14, was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. But nothing stops this determined dynamo who surfs “as many waves as possible and hangs out with my friends at the skate park when not reading everything I can.”
“Because of support from CAF, I am able to do the sports I love, make new friends and try new things,” he said.
“Years ago, I found a quote that is exactly how we now look at life,” said Jacqueline Pochop, Hunter’s mom. ‘You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.’ No one ever really knows how much they can handle until life throws it at them. Sometimes those things just keep getting thrown our way and we continue to rise and do what we gotta do!”
Eleven-year-old Sebastian was born with achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. Described as “little but mighty,” he swims, surfs, cycles and plays soccer.
“In the game of life, he’s always fighting to get ahead and racing to finish alongside his twin brother and older sister with everything he does,” said Jennifer and Scott Despasato, Sebastian’s parents. “We’ve never let Sebastian’s disability keep him from doing what everyone else does – playing, training, and competing. This year Sebastian rode his adaptive bike from CAF on the George Mickelson Rail to Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota – 109 miles – the first little person to ever complete the trek. In the adaptive world, he swims, competes in triathlons and surfs thanks to the support and equipment he’s received from CAF.”
The weekend’s nonstop sporting events and entertainment includes Friday meet and greet celebrations including CAF’s Celebration of Abilities Awards Dinner with awards presented to “CAF athletes and supporters who have demonstrated extraordinary amounts of strength, resilience, and commitment.”
Friday and Saturday events will include adaptive sports clinics the likes of open water swims, running and mobility clinics and wheelchair sports training.
Sunday’s triathlon will kick off with the National Anthem sung by Samuel Nehemiah. All day events include San Diego’s YMCA Tour de Cove stationary cycle-thon – Rocket Into Orbit. More than 100 stationary cycle bikes will line the cove’s great lawn with YMCA instructors leading a four-and-a-half-hour stationary bike tour.
Challenged athletes, “each with an incredible story to tell,” will also share the stage with instructors and cyclists in this “sweat-drenching workout.”
“Through the YMCA of San Diego County partnership – YMCA has provided over 1,000 memberships to San Diego’s CAF grant recipients to pursue their fitness goals – we’ve made a positive difference in the lives of challenged athletes,” said Tinley. “The membership grant program has helped San Diego’s physically challenged population get active for the first time along with those who wished to increase their fitness and athletic levels.
“The athletes love the facilities and resources, but more importantly, they feel welcomed and cared for by the staff,” said Baron Herdelin-Doherty, president and CEO of the YMCA of San Diego County. “Belonging to the Y means these athletes have a safe and encouraging environment. We are proud to partner with CAF and admire the elite athletes.”
“The Tour de Cove is the perfect celebration of our long-standing partnership,” Tinley said.
Katie B Happyy will lead Kaiser Permanente’s Thrive Yoga by the Sea, a 90-minute outdoor yoga class taking place on the La Jolla coastline.
“Take this opportunity to find your Zen, inspire a new audience to thrive, and connect with CAF,” said Tinley.
New for 2019, CAF will introduce the American Ninja Warrior Challenge, “where athletes of all abilities can put their ninja skills to the test.”
Sunday’s all-day events also include the Philadelphia Insurance Challenged Athlete Kids Run, the CAF store, a silent auction, a family fun-zone and a Paul Mitchell Cut-a-thon.
Since 1994, CAF has raised more than $112 million to support 26,000 physically challenged athletes worldwide. Another 60,000 individuals are impacted every year through CAF’s outreach programs.
Dedicated to awarding physically challenged athletes a level of respect equal to able-bodied athletes, CAF impacts millions living with physical challenges by providing access to adaptive sports equipment, training, and programming – including mentorship and competition and travel expenses.
“We emphasis community and mentorship so individuals with physical challenges can connect and learn from one another,” said Tinley.
CAF supports “athletes at every level and ability” including those dealing with spinal cord injuries, limb loss, cerebral palsy as well as cancer survivors and the visually impaired. Twenty-nine percent of grants fund athletes under 18 years of age.
“We strive to reach challenged athletes at a young age to ensure they have access to a full, active life,” said Tinley.
Sponsors of the weekend’s events include: Aspen Medical Products, Össur, Nike, Converse, YMCA of San Diego County, XTERRA Wetsuits, Ashworth Awards, Philadelphia Insurance Companies, Lusardi Construction, VitalFitSR, LAZ Parking, Kaiser Permanente, Accenture, Sycuan Resort Casino, Toyota, Union Bank, Headsweats, Life Time Fitness, Zappos Adaptive, Watkins Wellness, Smoothie King, Wells Fargo Advisors and performance nutrition partners CLIF Bar and GU.
Lucia Viti is a seasoned journalist, photojournalist and published author who covers all regions in feature and news reporting. Sporting a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the University of West Virginia, she spent 20 years in New York in the fields of Public Relations, Advertising and Medical Communications. Her love for outdoor sports landed her in Carlsbad in 1999 where she segued into news and feature reporting. Her photographs are sold locally in artisan shops throughout the County.