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We recently received this account from one of our Bent Up Cycles Trike Squad riders, John Elliott:

Well, it is done (for this year)! Last Sunday was the Challenged Athlete Foundation San Diego Triathlon Challenge half Ironman in La Jolla. I had planned on being nicely trained for this event, but ended up doing it almost completely untrained, 8 weeks after my last stent. This created a few additional challenges, but nothing compared to what some of the other athletes had to overcome.

Picture #1 is of the first rider over the line from the Million Dollar Challenge – a CAF sponsored fund raising ride form San Francisco to San Diego – in 6 days. Several hundred able and challenged riders completed this event, including deaf, blind (riding on the rear of tandem bikes), and mobility impaired entrants.

Picture #2 is one of the many hand cyclists who rode the entire 620 mile course with everyone else.

After a BBQ, everyone met up at the QUALCOMM conference center for the Celebration of Abilities dinner to hold a memorial and celebration of the life of Jim MacLaren, who passed away this last August at the age of 47. CAF grew out of a desire of Jim’s friends to assist him in his sports activities – Jim was a Yale football player who suffered an amputation after being hit by a bus while riding. He transformed himself into a trailblazing below-knee-amputee endurance racer. He suffered a devastating second accident while competing in a triathlon in Mission Viejo. Hit by a car that entered the closed course during the bike leg, Jim was paralyzed from the neck down. His many friends quickly decided to raise funds for his recovery, and organized the first San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC) – an annual fundraising triathlon event at La Jolla Cove. From this modest beginning CAF came into being, with a mission of helping challenged athletes compete in their chosen sports. There were too many courageous and inspirational stories to re-tell here, and legions of celebrities (including former Celtics player Bill Walton whom I was able to meet after he rode his bike in the 620 mile fund raiser!)

After a rest and registration/course instruction day, 200 challenged and hundreds of non-challenged athletes met up at La Jolla Cove for the 1.2 mile open water swim, 13.1 mile run, and 56 mile bike ride. I was lucky enough as a new Challenged Athlete to be assigned a first row first wave starting slot for the bike portion (No, I didn’t do all 3 events the way some of the REAL athletes did!) Picture #3 shows us jockeying to the start line for the first wave start. Unfortunately, an errant racing wheelchair snagged onto my front derailleur before the start. I didn’t know until later that this was going to make shifting down into hill climbing gears a huge problem. This 56 mile ride was a very hilly course, with 2000+ feet of elevation gain, including both sides of Torrey Pines road. Picture 4 gives an idea of one of the less challenging climbs. On the first steep uphill, while I was in the middle of a pack of Tri bikes and had no way to pull over, I discovered that downshifting to a lower gear was impossible. This meant powering up the 2 mile hill in a much higher gear than I wanted, and curt deeply into my reserves. Fortunately, CAF had assigned me an escort rider to accompany me on the ride because of worries over the sort time span since the latest stent. So a Physician/triathlete was right on my rear wheel all day.

While I was off playing Lance Armstrong, the swim and run parts of the race were going on. Picture 5 shows 2 of my friends leaving the water for the transition area. Greg (foreground) is a 21 year old who lost an arm, damaged his leg, and had 9 cardiac arrests due to a motorcycle accident. This was his first Ocean swim – a month earlier when I was unable to compete because of stent, I gave Greg my entry number and he rode the Disneyland half marathon in my place – his first event, and as I found out later, the second anniversary of his accident, almost to the exact hour. Also being helped from the water is Beth, my mentor at CAF, and a highly motivated hand cyclist who has done the LA and Boston marathons, and will be doing the Great wall of China marathon next year. Beth was a nationally ranked woman cyclist until a race accident on faulty paving left her an incomplete spinal separation. She transformed herself into a triatlete, and now coaches others (including Greg) on swimming and transition techniques.

See Part 2 for more!