Challenged Athletes event one-of-a-kind

By Phil Dailey

When Tara Butcher was in her early 20s, she says she wasn’t really that athletic. Fast-forward more than five years later, there’s no debate about Butcher’s athleticism, especially when it comes to endurance races.

Butcher, who is now 29 and works at Armonia Skin Care in La Jolla, will be one of more than 125 of the world’s top physically challenged athletes who will compete on Oct. 23 at the 18th annual San Diego Triathlon Challenge. The event also has more than 500 able-bodied participants.

“I wasn’t into triathlons or racing,” Butcher said. “I was the girl who would go to the gym occasionally and do the elliptical, but I was never athletic and never raced and trained.”

That all changed when Butcher was fitted for a prosthetic on her left leg.

When she was 22, Butcher was in a fender-bender and got our of her car to see the damage. When she did, she was struck by another car and broke both legs and severely injured her neck. The doctors put most of her body back together, but were unable to save her lower left leg.

Once her injuries healed, she was given an opportunity by the Challenged Athletes Foundation to try out a running leg.

“At that point you just want to try everything again and see what you can do,” Butcher said.

What she found out was that she was not only driven to become an endurance athlete, but she was pretty good too. Since the accident, Butcher has competed in a number of marathons, triathlons and has even climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.

She has also been involved with CAF for five years now and will once again take part in their premier event in La Jolla on the 23rd.

“I ask myself, ‘What would I be doing without this?’ I don’t know,” Butcher said. “I have always admired runners … but I don’t think I would have taken the initiative to push myself. The accident really gave me an extra push to really try everything and live life and push myself.”

Danny Gabriel has always been a life-long athlete. Despite being born without a left hand, Gabriel excelled in sports at La Jolla Country Day and went on to play college soccer.

Now 37, Gabriel has been a supporter and fundraiser for many years with CAF and has helped raise more than $150,000.

“It’s one of the unique charities where the people who give to the the challenged athletes get just as much out of it as the people that are receiving the grants,” Gabriel said. “It works both ways.”

Some of the key features of the triathlon include:

— A one-of-a-kind “challenge” distance triathlon (distances) on one of the most breathtaking courses in the country.

— Opportunity to compete side by side, as an individual or on a relay team, with Ironman Champions like Chris McCormack, athlete super-stars like Bill Walton, world-class challenged athletes and other celebrities.

— A motivational “A Celebration of Abilities” dinner and awards presentation showcasing some of CAF’s amazing stories.

— The industry’s “best swag bag,” (valued at $350), and other unique event amenities like a participant continental breakfast and post-event BBQ.

— Chance to fundraise for awesome incentive prizes including products from Oakley, Garmin, 2XU and more.

— An inspirational sports festival including the Tour de Cove spin-a-thon, 5K Fitness Walk, Family Fun Zone, CAF Village of exciting exhibitors, a silent auction and CAF store.

What makes the Triathlon Challenge great for Gabriel is that it’s much different from other triathlons that he’s seen or participated in.

“I think they all love it because it’s the one race that is really not a race. When you’re running, normally you’re trying to beat the guy next to you … and CAF is totally different,” he said. “When you run past a person you try and lift them up by saying, ‘Good job, keep it up.’ It’s the only race where you see that sort of spirit in people.”

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