Challenged Athletes Foundation Funds All Qualified Grant Applicants Totaling $5.1 Million of Support for 3,038 Challenged Athletes Across 94 Sports and Activities

March 30, 2021

CAF Encourages Athletes to be Stronger Through Sport; Individuals around the world with physical challenges receive grants for adaptive sports equipment, training and competition expenses

SAN DIEGO, CA – March 30, 2021 – Dedicated to providing life-changing access to sports, Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) is thrilled to announce its most meaningful grant distribution ever. Despite one of the most difficult years in recent history, 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. This year, 3,038 grants were distributed totaling $5.1 million in support to athletes ranging from Paralympic athletes to first-time applicants. CAF is a world leader and has helped thousands of athletes with physical challenges improve their lives through sports and fitness.

Throughout the pandemic, athletes around the world have been forced to change how they train. Despite the challenging year, CAF was able to pivot support to help athletes with their changing needs for living an athletic lifestyle. 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,” said Virginia Tinley, CAF Chief Executive Director. “Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, many of these grants provide critical support for coping with the impact of the pandemic.”

Over half of the Paralympic hopefuls representing Team USA at the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo are past CAF grant recipients. In the coming months, they will continue to train and compete in order to qualify for the world’s greatest athletic stage in August. For the first time ever, NBC will air coverage of the Paralympics during prime time.

CAF has remained committed and focused on positively impacting athletes with life-changing grants around the world by providing 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 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. “We are proud to continue supporting our partnership with CAF and funding these deserving individuals as they pursue their mobility and physical fitness goals,” said Tabi King, Director of Marketing at Össur. “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.”

CAF initiatives like the annual grant distribution are designed to help people realize their full potential. 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.

Through the 2021 grant distribution, challenged athletes in 49 states, Puerto Rico and 52 countries are receiving a variety of grants representing $5.1 million in support. Each individual has a unique personal story, and without this critical funding, participation in sports would be unattainable due to the general lack of insurance coverage for adaptive sports equipment and limited opportunities for these individuals to practice and compete.

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 has 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.

Follow 2021 grant recipients on social media through #teamCAF or #CAFstrong on Facebook – Challenged Athletes Foundation, Twitter – @CAFoundation and Instagram – @CAFoundation

Media Kit:

For a highlight video of these incredible grant recipients, click here: Grant Highlight Video

For images of these and more grant recipients, click here: Media Images & Grant Brochure

Through the generosity of partners this past fiscal year, CAF was able to help more people than ever by providing support, products, and services to grant recipients. CAF grants are made possible by generous donors, global partners, sponsors, fundraisers and major grant funders. Global partners include Nike, Össur, Toyota, Smoothie King, 100%, Accenture and the YMCA of San Diego. Major grant funders include J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, Kenneth Whalen Family Foundation, CAF Endowment in Memory of Robin Williams, CAF Endowment in Memory of Robert Spotswood, The Maguire Family Foundation, Franklin P. Johnson, American Securities, Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, The JEM Project, David C. Copley Foundation, The Foundation for Global Sports Development, PNC Charitable Trusts, SWITCHFOOT BRO-AM Foundation, Walter J. & Betty C. Zable Foundation and FedEx Cares.

We appreciate our adaptive sports equipment providers including: Össur – Global Prosthetics Partner, GRIT Freedom Chairs, Per4Max, Top End, Eagle Sportschairs, Canyon, Melrose, Unique Inventions, Motivation UK, Colours Wheelchairs, Vesco, Box Wheelchairs, Power Soccer Shop, and RGK.

We also recognize these Certified Prosthetist Offices who graciously donate their time and services to support our grant program with Össur including: Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics, RISE Prosthetics & Orthotics, Prosthetic Innovations, Davidson Prosthetics, Medical Center Orthotics & Prosthetics, Eastside Orthotics & Prosthetics, Southern California Prosthetics, Hanger Clinic, Lerman and Son Orthotics & Prosthetics, Prosthetic Orthotic Associates, David Rotter Prosthetics, Scott Sabolich Prosthetics and Research.

About the Challenged Athletes Foundation

The Challenged Athletes Foundation® (CAF) is a world leader in helping people with physical challenges lead active, healthy lifestyles. CAF believes that participation in physical activity at any level increases self-esteem, encourages independence and enhances quality of life.  Since 1994, more than $134 million has been raised and over 35,000 funding requests from people with physical challenges in all 50 states and dozens of countries have been satisfied. Additionally, CAF’s outreach efforts impact another 60,000 individuals each year. Whether it’s a $2,500 grant for a handcycle, helping underwrite a carbon fiber running foot not covered by insurance, or arranging enthusiastic encouragement from a mentor who has triumphed over a similar challenge, CAF’s mission is clear: give opportunities and support to those with the desire to live active, athletic lifestyles. To learn more, visit challengedathletes.org or call 858-866-0959.