Flying High at the Desert Challenge
By Lane Gram, Executive Director, Arizona Disabled Sports
Photo by Loren Worthington
The Desert Challenge Games began in Arizona in the early 1980s with a few local athletes from Tucson and Phoenix. Now the event has grown into a large, multi-sport event hosting hundreds of athletes from all across the world. The 2015 Desert Challenge Games took place from May 13th-17th in the Phoenix Valley and included 300 athletes and over 70 coaches and guide runners. Individuals age 7 through adulthood with a physical or visual disability were invited to compete in the sports of archery, field, swimming and track, with the opportunity to qualify for national and international competitions coming up this summer. The 2015 event was one of nine events called the IPC Athletics Grand Prix and was the only Athletics Grand Prix event taking place in the United States.
“This event is unique in the fact that it hosts recreational, novice and elite athletes all at one venue,” stated the Event Director, Lane Gram. “The junior athletes are running on the same track as their mentors and idols.”
-45 AZ Heat athletes
-35 of the United States represented
-4 Junior archery records
-8 Junior swim records
-60 WASUSA track and field records
-17 Americas records
-3 World records
The host organization, Arizona Disabled Sports, was proud to sponsor 45 local athletes who practice with the weekly training program at Mesa High School. Sixteen of the local athletes have qualified to compete in the National Junior Disability Championships in New Jersey this July, and an additional nine athletes qualified to compete in the US Paralympic National Track & Field Championships in Minnesota in June. The Desert Challenge Games also welcomed 40 veterans with physical or visual disabilities from all across the nation to compete in the track and field events.
Arizona State University’s Joe Selleh Track offered a mondo track surface and adequate field pits for several records to be set at the event. Despite a rain storm and delayed start to one of the sessions, the event submitted 3 IPC World records, 17 IPC Americas records, and 60 WASUSA Junior and Adult records for track and field. Additional venues included Papago Park Archery Range in Phoenix and Kino Aquatic Center in Mesa. An additional 12 Junior records were submitted to WASUSA for archery and swim. The competition was fierce and the athletes performed at the best of their ability.
“These athletes did not let the torrential rainfall affect their performance,” stated USATF official, Mike Pekar. “I work a lot of events at the collegiate and high school level, but this event is my favorite. These athletes train hard, work hard, and at the end of the race they congratulate one another. It is an amazing event to be a part of every year.”
Arizona Disabled Sports offers a weekly training program for track, field, archery and swimming during the spring season starting in January and ending with the Desert Challenge Games. Not an athlete…you can still join this event! The competition also requires nearly 200 volunteers from the community to support the event over five days.