Gianna Rojas was born in 1962 in Bath, Maine and soon discovered life presented her with challenges. She was born without fingers on her left hand, into a military family which relocated every few years. She had to learn how to build rapport and new friendships with the other kids very quickly and her outgoing personality was a big plus. Unfortunately, however, having one hand often made her the target of school bullies. Once, she was even pushed into her locker at school and trapped in it for 3 hours. Events like that helped to build her strong, empathetic character. She dedicates herself to helping those facing similar challenges.
In 1965, Dick Traum, 24, was filling his gas tank at a gas station when the car behind him jumped forward and crushed him between the 2 cars. As a result of his injuries, his right leg had to be amputated. In 1976, Dick found himself out of shape and approaching middle age. He decided to do something about it – he joined a YMCA and began running, small distances at first and building up to miles. By the end of the year, he became the first amputee to successfully complete the New York City Marathon.
The experience brought a strong sense of achievement and self-esteem. In 1983, Dick created the Achilles Track Club, now called Achilles International, to give that same life-changing experience to others with disabilities.
“Somehow, I wasn’t upset. When you lose a leg, there’s no ambiguity. You get an artificial leg and keep going.” (IMDb Mini Biography By: woodyanders)
In 1985 Jim MacLaren, a standout football and lacrosse athlete at Yale, was hit by a bus while riding his motorcycle and his left leg below the knee had to be amputated. Fueled by his competitive and athletic spirit, he recovered and went on to finish the Ironman Hawaii in 10 hours, 42 minutes. Then, in 1993, during the Orange County Triathlon, he was struck by a van while on his bike, hit a signpost, and became a quadriplegic. He went on to become a motivational speaker
Bob Babbitt, founder of Competitor Magazine, dedicated to triathlons, cycling and running and himself an Ironman competitor, met MacLaren during the Hawaii Ironman. It was his first encounter with an athlete running on a prosthetic leg. He was awestruck at the determination and perseverance of disabled athletes. After MacLaren’s second accident, when he was bound to a wheelchair, Babbitt and some fellow athletics enthusiasts raised funds to purchase a van which MacLaren could drive with his hands. They raised more than they needed and Babbitt and MacLaren founded the Challenged Athletes Foundation® to support other disabled athletes in their efforts to remain active.
Babbitt’s belief is to stick with our big ideas, especially when they might seem impossible, and to seek out the experiences that will make an impact on your life and in your community.
The Challenged Athletes Foundation® provides universal access to physical activity and sport through global grant distributions, camps, clinics, mentoring and motivation.
We love the spirit of the Rio 2016 Paralympians – persistent, determined, motivated, dedicated. Here are 3 of Team USA medal contenders to watch.
EVAN AUSTIN – Paralympic Swimmer – Familial Spastic Paraparesis
Born with familial spastic paraparesis, an inherited disease whose main feature is progressive stiffness and contraction (spasticity) in the lower limbs, as a result of damage to or dysfunction of the nerves. His mother has the same condition but whereas it did not impact her until her late ‘40’s, Evan’s progression began at age 3. The muscles in his legs and back did not grow. It hindered his walking but by age 11, he found that the pool was his haven. He developed exceptional upper-body strength as he learned to drag himself through the water.