By Dave Schwab
Competing in two of three legs of the 15th annual San Diego Triathlon Challenge, a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run at La Jolla Cove Sunday was a transcendent experience for handcyclist Paralympian Oscar "Oz" Sanchez.
"I attempted to do the whole triathlon - did really well on the swim and started the relay portion of handcycling," he said, adding that he "was too beat to do the race, so I opted out."
Sanchez, who was rendered a paraplegic by a spinal cord injury in a 2001 motorcycle accident, is one of three 2008 U.S. Paralympic Gold Medalists who competed in the Oct. 26 triathlon challenge.
The annual event, in which 125-plus challenged- and able-bodied athletes compete side by side, is sponsored by the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which has grown immensely during its 15-year history.
"The first race we raised $48,000," said Foundation director Roy Perkins. "Last year we raised over $4 million, and we even had to cancel the event because of the wildfires. We were able to give away $1.077 million in grants to 625 challenged athletes around the world."
It's become an inspirational event for challenged athletes like Sanchez.
"Sport cycling started out as a way to be active and physical," he said, "but has evolved over time into succeeding for a bigger purpose outside of myself: being a good role model, and a good advocate of disabled sports in general. My aspiration is to be a motivational speaker."