Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) was able to fully fund all qualified 2021 grant applications for individuals with physical challenges to get back into the game of life, through sport, even in this difficult pandemic year, it announces.

This year, 3,038 grants were distributed totaling $5.1 million in support to challenged athletes in 49 states, Puerto Rico and 52 countries around the world, ranging from Paralympic athletes to first-time applicants.

In addition to the 3,038 grants, CAF supported over 400 grant recipients who chose to defer their 2020 grants to 2021. Due to the pandemic, many of these grants could not be redeemed due to abrupt and continued cancellations of adaptive sports competitions.

“Our belief in the power of sport to strengthen from the inside out is deeper than ever. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, many of these grants provide critical support for coping with the impact of the pandemic.”

— Virginia Tinley, CAF Chief Executive Director

Over half of the Paralympic hopefuls representing Team USA at the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo are past CAF grant recipients. For the first time ever, NBC will air coverage of the Paralympics during prime time, according to a media release from CAF.

CAF offers athletes from around the world with grants to provide adaptive sports equipment not covered by medical insurance such as running prosthetics, handcycles and sport wheelchairs, along with at-home training equipment, training and competition travel expenses.

This Year’s Grant Distribution

This year’s grant distribution spans across 94 different sports and activities including track & field, wheelchair basketball, adaptive fitness training, blind surfing, wheelchair rugby, para-equestrian, Nordic skiing and outdoor recreation.

CAF’s new partnership with GRIT Freedom Chairs 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. CAF partnered with GRIT on research and development of the customized chairs and funded all 80 grant requests, 15 of whom are youth athletes.

For 25 years, CAF’s exclusive prosthetic partner Össur has helped people in the limb loss and limb different community pursue a life without limitations by donating hundreds of prosthetic sports feet and knees to athletes. This year, 81 Össur prostheses were granted, the release continues.

“We are proud to continue supporting our partnership with CAF and funding these deserving individuals as they pursue their mobility and physical fitness goals. Together CAF and Össur ensure that individuals with limb loss and limb difference can unleash their athletic potential with critical access to innovative sports prostheses, expert coaching, and instruction.”

— Tabi King, Director of Marketing at Össur

CAF Initiatives

In the past year, CAF has increased awareness for transformational programs like its High School Adaptive Sports Program that supports and prepares student-athletes for school teams. This year, the national program will be virtual and 100 registered high school athletes will commence training this April.

Other key CAF programs like Operation Rebound supports injured military, veterans and first responders with a platform to help them live their best life with athletic equipment and a supportive community. Through CAF grants, camps, clinics, mentorship and community, athletes of all ages and abilities can enrich their lives through sport.

2021 Grant Distribution Facts and Figures

  • 94 sports
  • 49 states + Puerto Rico
  • 52 countries
  • Youngest grant recipient- Age 2
  • Oldest grant recipient- Age 76
  • 22% of grant recipients under the age of 18
  • 38% are first-time grant recipients
  • 38% are female
  • 62% are male

Income Stats

  • 40% of recipients have household earnings under $20K/year
  • 26% of recipients’ households earn income between $20K-$50K/year

Breakdown by Disability

  • 21% Limb Loss/Limb Difference
  • 11% Spina Bifida
  • 9% Cerebral Palsy
  • 9% Paraplegia
  • 9% Spinal Cord Injury
  • 13% Spina Bifida

2021 Grant Athlete Spotlights

Name: Victoria Mugo (39) from Aurora, CO

Physical Challenge: Quadruple Amputee

Grant: Össur sports prostheses

Bio: Victoria Mugo was a marathon runner who led an active lifestyle before contracting the flu, which turned quickly into severe septic shock, leading to multiple organ failure. In an attempt to save her life, she was placed on life support and into a medically induced coma for one month. While this saved her life, it resulted in a quadruple limb loss; her hands were amputated at the wrist and both legs were amputated below the knee. Determined to move, she trained herself to walk with her first leg sockets prior to her physical therapy. As a quad amputee, she now has plans to run, continue hiking and start obstacle training.

Name: Ray “Speedy” Walker (20) from New Orleans, LA

Physical Challenge: Spinal Cord Injury

Grant: PER4MAX Basketball Wheelchair

Bio:  Speedy grew up playing basketball. Last April, he when he was in a terrible car accident that took the lives of both his aunt and mom. The only survivor, Speedy suffered multiple broken bones and his spinal cord was partially severed. Now, 18, he’s adjusting to life and back on the basketball court, but this time in a wheelchair. Speedy plans to work hard and hopes to attend college on a wheelchair basketball scholarship.

Name: Shelby Lee (4) from Gilbert, AZ

Physical Challenge:  Single Below-Knee Amputee

Grant: Össur Cheetah® Junior prosthesis

Bio:  Shelby Lee, 4 years old, was born with a rare condition in her left leg resulting in amputation before her first birthday. As a toddler, she participated in the Desert Challenge Games’ Toddler Run and her parents noticed that sports built her confidence and helped her form new friendships. Shelby, who does not want to sit on the sidelines, has set her sights on joining a soccer league and returning to gymnastics when pandemic restrictions are lifted. She looks forward to keeping up with other children and gaining the new athletic experiences she deserves.

Name: Dianne Vitkus (28) from Boston, MA

Physical Challenge: Quadriplegia

Grant: GRIT Freedom Chair

Bio: In 2020 Dianne Vitkus, a 28-year old physician’s assistant, was enjoying a relaxing sunset from her rooftop after a series of long work shifts. As she tried to descend the 15-foot ladder, she slipped and landed on her back, paralyzing her from her chest down. While she was in rehabilitation, she tried a GRIT Freedom Chair and loved the accessibility it provided her and can’t wait to again explore the hiking trails she loves.

Name: Dominic Ozeta (14) from Riverside, CA

Physical Challenge: Limb Deficiency

Grant: Sports Expense Grant

Bio:  Dominic Ozeta has not let his congenital limb deficiency stop him from excelling in soccer. Sports have allowed him to travel and meet people that he has inspired. He has gained self-esteem, confidence and wants to inspire others to get out and play, regardless of their limb differential. Dominic is hoping to play Varsity soccer as a freshman at his high school this year.

Name: Kadynce Long (9) from Broken Arrow, OK

Physical Challenge: Spina Bifida

Grant: Top End Preliminator Custom Racing Chair

Bio: Kadence was born with Spina Bifida but that didn’t stop her from competing in swimming and wheelchair racing at the Endeavor Games in 2018. Before the pandemic, she was just starting to find her competitive streak in the adaptive world by learning turns and increasing her speed racing her wheelchair.

[Source(s): Challenged Athletes Foundation, GlobeNewswire]

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