The Coast News Group
Jamie Witmore, of Somerset, standing center, and Brandon Lyons, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, right, are two of the 100 cyclists to take on the 650 mile Million Dollar Challenge ride. The last day of the ride took cyclists through Encinitas on their way to La Jolla. Photo by Promise Yee

Challenged athletes bike through North County

REGION —  A group of 120 cyclists passed through North County coastal cities on its final day of a weeklong 650-mile journey. The group rode to raise money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

Among the riders were 10 challenged athletes, first-time participants and those who rode the grueling distance in previous years.

Most of the new riders went through an event training program to get ready for the demanding ride.

“It’s a very intense ride,” Sydney Bates, Challenged Athletes Foundation cycling manager, said.

“The last day was 55 miles. The hardest day was 123 miles.”

The Million Dollar Challenge fundraiser ride began in San Francisco on Oct. 14, and ended in San Diego on Oct. 20.

This year there were several course changes due to the landslide in Big Sur and smoke from central California fires. Bates said this added a lot of uphill climbing to the route.

Along the way cyclists enjoyed beautiful scenery, camaraderie and unexpected moments.

Bates said the biggest motivation for riders is to help challenged athletes. In addition to getting to know the challenged athletes who take part in the ride, participants are given a biography of a challenged athlete to ride in honor of during the seven-day journey.

This year’s ride raised $1.5 million to support challenged athletes’ participation in sports camps and clinics. Beneficiaries of the fundraising range in age from 3 to 60 and beyond.

“Funds provide the resources for athletes to get them back in the world of sports,” Bates said.

Laura Stein, Challenged Athletes Foundation marketing director, said fundraising is critical in providing challenged athletes the opportunity to engage in sports that require costly adaptive equipment.

The ride also raised awareness in the cities it passed through.

The group stopped in Encinitas at Pannikin Coffee and Tea to grab a snack before the final leg of the journey.

Days earlier in Pebble Beach, an above-the-knee amputee who was on a casual bike ride with his wife ran into the riders and joined them at their lunch stop. Stein said the man had not heard of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and is now part of the CAF community.

Another poignant stop was in La Jolla at the end of the ride. Challenged athletes who did not make the ride met cyclists at Kellogg Park and gave them a finish medal.

Stein said this helped put a face on the people the riders were raising money to support.

Stein said challenged athletes who met riders and those who participated in the journey were overwhelmed with gratitude for the outpouring of community support.

An inspiration to all was seeing challenged athletes on the ride. Stein said the ride changes people’s perception of what is possible.

This year was the 12th annual Million Dollar Challenge ride. Throughout the year there are cycling club rides and locally organized events that benefit the Challenged Athletes Foundation. For more information go to