2022 Celebration of Abilities Award Winners
Every October, the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) hosts an extraordinary weekend full of fundraising events and activities for individuals of all abilities, including the inspirational Celebration of Abilities (COA) Awards Dinner. Community members and Challenged Athletes alike who exemplify CAF’s mission are celebrated for extraordinary heart and performance amongst family, friends, and peers as they receive their awards.
Learn more about our winners:
Jim MacLaren Award
CAF’s highest annual honor given to the individual or individuals who have made the greatest contribution to the CAF mission this year.
DEAN ROEPER AND SCOTT RHODES
Dean and Scott’s impact on The Challenged Athletes Foundation has been a labor of love for over a decade. As avid cyclists, they got involved with the Challenged Athletes Foundation through the Million Dollar Challenge and have been the event’s Co-Chairmen since 2009. Their leadership and vision for MDC has been integral to the reputation, longevity and immense success of the event which has raised over $21 million dollars, of which over $18 million can be attributed to their leadership.
When they stepped into the role, they inspired others through their model of servant leadership. Each has ridden thousands of miles alongside the many challenged athletes who have taken on the 640-mile journey. They recruited a core of dedicated ride leaders, developed other leaders from within the peloton and fostered the growth of CAF’s cycling community.
The obstacles presented by the pandemic to MDC were no match for Scott and Dean’s tenacity. In 2021 the event came back from shelter in place with a record year of fundraising and participation and 2022 is shaping up to be another epic experience. Like Jim, Dean and Scott embody courage, compassion and an unending desire to empower people with physical challenges to reach their fullest potential.
Partner of the Year
A partner who has made a significant contribution to CAF in the past year and whose values best reflect the values and mission of CAF.
CAF and Accenture have a 17-year partnership that has contributed over $800,000 to support CAF’s Operation Rebound Program, signature events and to promote Diversity and Inclusion through sports and how that transcends into the workplace. In 2022 CAF was chosen as the beneficiary of their Accenture Innovation Challenge that provided college students across the U.S. an opportunity to offer ideas and solutions to solve a priority goal of a nonprofit organization. We chose our High School Adaptive Sports Program and how to expand our reach through middle and high school aged youth with a disability. After the 3-month competition was over, Accenture team provided a pro bono project to create a strategic recommendation on how CAF can Understand the core needs of parents, athletes, and coaches in the youth adaptive sports program to inform a digital community strategy that deeply engages our constituents and helps to spread awareness of the foundation’s efforts. The result is a roadmap along with financials to execute on how we can foster an inclusive and accessible community-centered youth sports experience based on the belief that anyone can be an athlete. Launch an end to-end journey that’s designed to attract athletes and their parents, support those within the CAF world, and make it easy to amplify the cause.
Media Partner of the Year
The partner who has provided the most support in creating the CAF message and amplifying it through media.
ERIC COCHRAN/TAIKULI PRODUCTIONS
Long-time Director and Cinematographer Eric Cochran started filming eight-year-old Landis Sims, who was born missing both hands and feet. Eric knew very little about people dealing with physical challenges when he started filming Landis, but after spending time with our CAF athletes he realized the film he was making on Landis could be a great showcase for not only Landis and his attempt to make his high school baseball team, but could also serve as inspiration for thousands of other kids and adults who need to know that anything is possible. Eric captured one boy’s incredible journey over 8 years, funded the film on his own and the response to Landis: Just Watch Me has been spectacular from both viewers and the media with CAF receiving national exposure in People Magazine, USA Today, ESPN, ABC Nightly News, NBC Nightly News and Good Morning America among others.
Exceptional Athletic Performance Award
An athlete who, through perseverance and exceptional athletic conditioning, has achieved extraordinary levels of success in sport.
Oksana was nominated for 2 ESPY awards this year from best female athlete with AND without a disability. With 17 Paralympic medals in cycling and Nordic ski, Oksana continues to raise the level of her competition. She medaled in all seven events in Beijing with her favorite race being the team relay.
A challenged athlete who demonstrated courage, commitment and leadership – not just in their personal performance but in opening doors for others.
3x Paralympian and Michigan native Chris Hammer was born without his left hand, but that hasn’t slowed him down at all. In fact, he was a four-time NCAA Division II Track All-American at Grand Valley State University before being recruited to join the US Para Track Team and moving on to the world’s largest stage. In 2012 Chris took ninth in the 1,500 meters and tenth in the marathon in his first Paralympics in London. In 2013 he moved to Paratriathlon and had immediate success. He finished fourth, 29 seconds off the podium, in the inaugural Paralympic Paratriathlon in Rio and followed that up with another fourth-place finish in Tokyo in the 2020 Paralympics. This time Chris finished a mere six seconds off the podium. On September 26, 2021, Chris jumped into his first long distance triathlon at Ironman 70.3 Augusta and not only won the 35-39 age division, he finished 16th overall with an impressive 4:01:44 and beat a number of professional triathletes. Because of that performance, Chris applied for and received his elite card from USA Triathlon and became the first challenged athlete in history to become a professional triathlete
Most Inspirational Athlete Award
Given to the athlete or athletes who have overcome obstacles to achieve new heights in sports and sports mentorship.
Zach has overcome having a high level of disability to peruse the sport he loves showing others that despite there not being a classification or other like you doing something, you should never give up pursuing something that brings you joy. He is a true mentor to others who feel like they don’t have a category for them.
Zach has been an avid snowboarder since the late 90’s and says the sport has been an integral part of his life from a young age. As an able-bodied snowboarder for 11 years, he learned many important life lessons from the sport. As he progressed, snowboarding taught him the importance of adapting quickly to ever-changing environments. Those lessons became the motivation behind his remarkable survival and recovery after a devastating motorcycle accident in 2010. Over the last 12 years, Zach has restarted his life and been adapting as a triple amputee. He has stepped out of his wheelchair, established mobility using prosthetic legs, and is finally enjoying independent living. He thought he’d ever never snowboard again but, believed there was a way. Over the last several years he has been able to improve on the prostheses he uses and become a better adaptive snowboarder. Each year his progress is exponentially better than the previous thanks to the coaching and guidance of others, including Olympic and Paralympic athletes!
Sam Day Rising Star Award
“A young athlete who has demonstrated commitment, dedication and focus to
meet an athletic goal.”
Emma is a below knee amputee who currently resides in Pensacola, Florida. This is Emma’s third year as part of the U23/Junior Paratriathlon Development Team. Emma recently earned elite status and will be competing in France in June. Emma swam for her high school this year and practiced with the cross-country team. Next year Emma will be Junior Class President. Emma attended CAF’s Youth Paratriathlon Camp in 2019 and was granted a bike on stage at SDTC, as well, and participates in CAF events whenever she can. Recently, she was a participant at our Össur + CAF Running and Mobility Clinic in Atlanta earlier this year. She is an exceptionally gifted Para triathlete and is going to accomplish amazing things on her quest to competing for Team USA in Paris in 2024. She is hard working, driven, and kind as can be.
Chase has always had a love for sports. There isn’t a sport that Chase won’t try. However, at the young age of 3 rather than being on a soccer field, Chase was in the ICU fighting for his life. He was stricken with a deadly strand of the flu virus which quickly sent him into septic shock. The medications that helped protect his vital organs stopped the blood flow to his extremities. This led to the development of necrosis in his hands and feet, which resulted in amputations. However, the loss of his limbs has not slowed Chase down one bit. Since his amputations, Chase has returned to playing sports even stronger than before. With the help of CAF, Chase has been able to compete in track and field all over the country. Chase is an inspiration to everyone he meets. Chase continues to challenge himself in multiple sports and set multiple PR’s at Jr Nationals for Track and Field.