Author: McCale Ashenbrener
Eight-year-old Brooklyn Gossard has big goals. She plans to live in a sprinter van with her kitty and twin sister and travel around the world competing in at least 100 paratriathlons. Why triathlons, you ask? Well, she just loves every new adaptive sport she tries and you get three sports in one with a triathlon. With the help of Challenge Athletes Foundation (CAF), she discovered the world of adaptive sports and has set her unicorns aside on a new mission to compete in the Paralympics.
The mission of CAF is to “provide opportunities and support to people with physical challenges, so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics.” They provide camps and clinics so athletes can try new sports and develop their skill and love for existing sports. They also provide grant funding for equipment, coaching, travel funds and competition expenses to athletes with physical limitations all over the world. CAF sent Brooklyn’s whole family to San Diego for a week for the CAF Triathlon. She learned to surf, tried many new sports, received a grant for a hand-cycle and met inspiring Paralympic athletes and families like hers.
“It was very tough finding out Brooklyn had Transverse Myelitis, with little use of her lower body for life,” shares Allison, Brooklyn’s mother. “Once we found the world of adaptive recreation through CAF we stopped trying to ‘fix’ Brooklyn and started finding all these sports that helped her not only keep up with the rest of us while playing outdoors, but gave her a whole community of people who were just like her.”
While finding her passion and confidence in adaptive sports was one thing, affording it was another challenge. “You can’t just go buy a $100 bike. A hand-cycle starts at around $3000.” Add travel and coaching expenses and it adds up quickly. CAF provides this support. According to Jennifer Skeesick, CAF Regional Director, “CAF Idaho is the ONLY state wide initiative that CAF has ever established. This is a result of vision cast by the JA and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation that all adaptive athletes in Idaho would be treasured in a special way by making Idaho a destination location for adaptive sport.”
“From ONE came Many” is a phrase that captures the unique history of CAF. It is a story inspired by Jim MacLaren, an exceptional athlete whose community rallied together to raise funds in 1994 to help purchase an adaptive van. Brooklyn is one of the many that carries this legacy forward. At an assembly at Gem Prep Meridian she spoke to her school about having spinal cord damage and how it affects her life, showing her peers there is more to a person than their disability. Through her passion and purpose Brooklyn is inspiring those around her to work hard, dream big, and be defined by what they do, not what slows them down.