CAF and GRIT Partnership Provides More Outdoor Access and Freedom to Individuals Including the Gift of the First 20 GRIT Junior Chairs on the Market
Now more than ever, getting outdoors helps people cope with stress and find joy in life. The Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and GRIT have gifted the opportunity for over 80 individuals with physical challenges nationwide to gain more freedom and outdoor access. CAF’s new partnership with GRIT has made it possible for kids and adults with physical disabilities to be active, independent and adventurous while they enjoy outdoor sports and recreation in an all-terrain wheelchair. Of the CAF grant recipients, 20 youth athletes will soon receive a customized and adjustable GRIT Junior, the newly developed GRIT offering designed for the youngest riders. CAF is a world leader and has helped thousands of athletes with physical challenges improve their lives through sports and fitness and get back into the game of life.
“We are really trying to push the envelope on innovation so that kids with disabilities can enjoy outdoor activities with their families and peers,” said Jennifer Skeesick, Physical Therapist and Regional Director, CAF Idaho. “Our partnership with GRIT has allowed us to be involved in the research, development and custom design our youth athletes need to find new passions and participate in a wider range of activities.”
In 2020, CAF approached GRIT about the idea of designing a chair for youth athletes to hike with their families and contributed funds towards the research and development of these chairs. Designed by MIT engineers, the GRIT Junior allows small children with physical challenges to propel themselves over tough terrain using a lever system. GRIT co-founders learned about wheelchair design and engineering principles before enlisting the help of hundreds of wheelchair riders from around the world as well as seating experts, physical and occupational therapists, and outdoor enthusiasts.
“We have been able to change the landscape of outdoor accessibility and create inclusive opportunities for kids and adults in wheelchairs,” said Tish Scolnik, Co-Founder and CEO at GRIT. “It made perfect sense to connect with CAF and work together on creating the GRIT Junior. We have appreciated the connections and feedback from CAF and are grateful they are making the GRIT Freedom Chair and GRIT Junior available to athletes who need them and want to do more. We are especially excited to see more kids just get to be kids- exploring independently and playing with their peers- with the GRIT Junior!”
In January, CAF surprised 3-year old Teddy Wallace with the first-ever GRIT Junior. Teddy was born with Arthrogryposis, a lifelong condition that affects his joints and muscles. Since then, Teddy and his active family have been adventuring on snow, grass and hiking trails of Idaho.
Despite one of the most difficult years in recent history, this year, CAF awarded 3,038 individual grants, totaling $5.1 Million in support spanning 94 different sports and including outdoor recreation. CAF’s new partnership with GRIT has not only made the outdoors more accessible but opened up new opportunities for youth to enjoy freedom beyond the pavement.
GRIT Recipient Athlete Spotlights
Dianne Vitkus, Charlestown, MA
Physical Challenge: Quadriplegia
As if 2020 weren’t cursed enough already, 28-year old physician’s assistant, Dianne Vitkus, tried to descend the 15-foot ladder from her rooftop and slipped, leaving her paralyzed from her chest down. She was devastated for a number of reasons but mostly that she loved the outdoors and felt that would change.
While she was in rehabilitation, she tried an adaptive road bike and a GRIT Freedom Chair. She immediately loved the accessibility both provided her and can’t wait to explore the trails she once loved. Prior to her fall, she was a Division 1 collegiate lacrosse player, a marathon runner and avid hiker who enjoyed the beauty of upstate New York.
Kevin Holtry, Boise, ID
Sport: Hiking, Hockey
Physical Challenge: Paraplegia, Above Knee Amputation
In 2016, Corporal Kevin Holtry and members of the Boise Police Department contained an armed fugitive in a residential neighborhood. Upon discovery, the fugitive opened fire on the officers. As a result, Kevin was paralyzed, and one leg was amputated. He has been faced with tremendous adversity, but his 20-year career with the BPD has left him with an unmatched level of determination.
Through the support of CAF, Kevin has competed in triathlons, Nordic skiing, Biathlon and sledge hockey clinics. Now, through a grant from CAF Idaho for a GRIT Freedom Chair, Kevin has the freedom and independence to continue healing in Idaho’s great outdoors.
Daniel Lockwood, 10, Coarsegold, CA
Physical Challenge: Cerebral Palsy
Daniel was adopted from China at the age of 3. Born with Cerebral Palsy and epilepsy, he is one of five siblings with disabilities who were all adopted from overseas. Daniel is on his school’s cross-country team and loves the outdoors. Staying active has helped put him at an equal level with his siblings who are typically more active.
The GRIT Junior will allow him and his family to continue their love of hiking and outdoor adventures; it will also allow them to pursue their dream of hiking in each of the National Parks in the lower 48 states as well as hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Jacen Mancil, 6, Belleview, FL
Sport: Trail Riding/Hiking
Physical Challenge: Spinal Cord Injury
Shortly after his first birthday, Jacen was being pushed in a stroller when he was struck by a vehicle on the side of the road. The accident left him with a spinal cord injury, TBI, and unable to walk.
Now a Kindergartner, he enjoys horseback riding and learning to swim but most of all, he loves being outside. The GRIT Junior will allow him to play in his backyard, explore trails and even play with his classmates during recess at school.
Learn more about our 2021 Grant Distribution here.