By Phil Dailey
It's been 17 years in the making and now the Challenged Athletes Foundation finally has a home worthy of its cause.
The newly minted Deni & Jeff Jacobs Challenged Athletes Center opened its doors last week, a project that got under way more than two years ago. The foundation's new home in Sorrento Valley offers a place for challenged athletes to work out and get educated. It's also a place to showcase the triumphs of just how far athletes with disabilities have come — and how far they can go despite their physical challenges.
"This is a place where everyone can gather and share their experiences and share their stories," said Jeffery Essakow, who along with Bob Babbitt and Rich Kozlowski, started CAF in 1997.
The organization prides itself on being "the world leader in empowering physically challenged athletes to find success in sport and life" has helped more than 5,000 athletes get back in the game with prosthetics, wheelchairs and education.
"We believe through sport, that it makes people whole," Essakow said. "It makes people feel a sense of independence and makes them feel a sense of accomplishment."
On Tuesday, Feb. 8, the center held a ribbon-cutting and building dedication that included Mayor Jerry Sanders and hall of fame basketball player Bill Walton.
"After two years of tenant improvements, Deni and I are so excited to see the opening of the new Challenged Athletes Center," Jeff Jacobs said. Jacobs is the former vice president at Qualcomm and now owner of Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa in Del Mar.
Highlights of the new facility include:
• The RC Baker Foundation CAF Educational Center, a place where people can tour, interact and learn that it takes more than a strong will to overcome physical limitations to participate in sports.
• Half basketball court that will host wheelchair basketball, sit volleyball, spin, mobility and conditioning clinics onsite for the first time in the organization's history
• Matrix Training Facility adaptive sports gym to teach challenged athletes how to correctly use equipment found in their neighborhood gyms.
• State of the art audio visual system graciously donated by Sony, Electronics and Meyer Sound Systems that will project the message of hope and the faces of CAF — athlete's stories triumph over adversity.
The Challenged Athletes Foundation was formed in 1997, but it was in 1994 when the its three founders first put forth the idea to help injured triathlete, Jim MacLaren. That first event in La Jolla was such a success for MacLaren, it continued in 1995.
In October, the San Diego Triathlon Challenge enters its 18th year at La Jolla Cove and is now considered one of the top events for all triathletes. It's an event for world-class challenged athletes and celebrities to compete with top triathletes and former Ironman winners.
"The goal has always been since 1994 is to try and make a difference in peoples' lives," Essakow said. "We have seen the progress of athletes we have helped."
With its permanent home firmly in place, CAF is far from resting on its accomplishments. The organization still has many requests from athletes that they are unable to grant.
"We have this goal one day to fulfill every single request that comes in," Essakow said. "We will continue to build what we believe is a one-of-a-kind building and one-of-a-kind organization to directly help individuals."
For more on CAF, go to