Events/News

Proud Beyond Words: Reflections from the Father of a World TEAM Sports Athlete

BY NINO POZGAJ

Irvine, California, September 8, 2011 – My daughter Clarissa is like any other 16-year-old. She has one important difference, though – a rare congenital disorder called arthrogryposis that affects her joints and requires her to use a wheelchair for mobility.

Nino and Clarissa Pozgaj

Nino Pozgaj carries his daughter Clarissa during the 2011 Adventure TEAM Challenge in Colorado. Photograph courtesy Alteryx, Inc.

In June 2010, I and other colleagues at Alteryx, Inc., an Irvine, California-based agile business intelligence software provider, participated in World T.E.A.M. SportsAdventure TEAM Challenge. Held in the high mountains near Eagle Colorado, the Challenge is an inclusive event that brings together athletes with disabilities with non-disabled athletes. Created by World T.E.A.M. Sports board member and blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer, the Challenge has gained a reputation as one of the more difficult outdoor team events for the disabled.

The Challenge gives people the inspiration to achieve, no matter what the obstacles are, and to live life no matter what. It shows others what can be done and gives them the confidence to do the unthinkable. This confidence and inspiration is not just for the disabled, but even more so for all of us able bodied people.

In our Alteryx team, we included Clarissa as one of our two athletes with disabilities. I had a lot of anxiety and uncertainty – not only about how we were going to do this, but also for the safety of my daughter. There was a lot of faith and blind trust not just between Clarissa, myself and the team but also with the event organizers, Erik and everyone who helped out.

There was pressure on me as a father in making sure my daughter didn’t get hurt. I had some fear she would just suffer so much that it would turn out to be a bad experience. I also didn’t want to let Alteryx down and disappoint my colleagues in some way. Clarissa was also petrified about doing the stages, but she was brave and she forced herself to go through with it. Because she did, a lot of doors and opportunities have opened up for her.

Team Clarissa bicycling

Team Clarissa cycles during the 2011 Adventure TEAM Challenge. Photograph courtesy Alteryx, Inc.

Finishing that race the first year and seeing how it changed Clarissa and seeing what an inspiration she became to so many people is just indescribable. As a father, I am proud beyond words. I am also awestruck she has had such a strong impact on other people.

At this year’s Adventure TEAM Challenge in late June, it was totally different. All our anxiety and fear were gone, replaced with excitement and anticipation, knowing we could actually compete. Because of our third place finish last year, there was a little bit of pressure to perform again. Last year, our goal was only to survive. This year, our goal was to actually see if we could improve our time and placing. This made it really fun.

Being able to compete with my daughter in the rugged Rocky Mountains, mountain biking, rafting, zip lining, etc. is just insanely fun, for both me and Clarissa. Without World T.E.A.M. Sports, this would never have been possible. The magnitude of that was evident this year by not only the doubling of the participants, but also in the intensity of the athletes and the volunteers. There were many tear jerker stories everywhere we turned – it was really amazing.

What brings a tear to my eye is the confidence participating in the Challenge gave Clarissa. The confidence in her is almost scary, but it is genuine. There are no words to describe how my wife and I feel about that. Our level of gratitude is immeasurable.

Team Clarissa Rafting

Team Clarissa rafting on the Colorado west of State Bridge. Photograph courtesy Alteryx, Inc.

The Amish have a saying that God sends us the disabled children to teach us how to love … my wife and I both firmly believe in that. The Challenge gives people like Clarissa and other disabled folks the opportunity to experience something unique and provides a venue where they can compete in a tough event. This is not some watered-down easy sport, but a real tough kind of event where even the strong weep.

The Challenge has become something my family and I look forward to doing all year long and we plan and prepare for it the whole time. For many years now I have wanted to compete in some sport with Clarissa. I get to do that now – way beyond what I ever had imagined. This has become a family event now where we all participate. Clarissa and I could not do this without her mother. Mari is our rock, she is our pit crew that gets us ready and patches us up when needed. She is the backbone of our family. Clarissa and I are both lucky that way.

This race has two totally different experiences for the participants. You have your first-timers who are in awe and just plain scared, but excited to be able to do this. Having them participate will change their lives, just like happened to Clarissa and to Jennifer Peterson, a Minnesota paraplegic with The Prouty Project’s STRETCH Expedition Clarissa inspired to compete this year. We know what impact this has on people.

The other experience the Challenge provides is for returning athletes who come back multiple times. This type of person does it for the fun of competition – I must say it’s very addicting. We are already planning a new race “chariot” for Clarissa, one that will help us compete better next year. There is a certain energy and spirit of competition that gives this event some true fun and excitement. It wouldn’t be the same without that.

Clarissa and her family

Clarissa, her mother and younger sister at the Adventure TEAM Challenge camp. Photograph courtesy Alteryx, Inc.

As any mother and father, my wife and I worry about our daughter and her future. Our number one goal in life, as it is for any parent, is to do everything possible for Clarissa to become independent when she enters adulthood. For Clarissa, this is even more urgent. We will not be around forever to take care of her. My wife and I have a strong belief that if Clarissa works hard and believes in herself, she will overcome all of those obstacles and live a happy, fulfilling life.

Interesting enough, doing this race has given Clarissa so much confidence that she is now starting to look for a job, just like any 16 year old teenager. We have conversations about what jobs she can do and how much they pay, etc. It’s funny to see her reaction when she finds out how little money part time entry level jobs pay! The point is that she is starting to get it and she wants independence for the first time. It’s neat to see her grow like that.

Watching people respond to Clarissa and seeing how inspiring she is to them in the Adventure TEAM Challenge races, makes it evident that Clarissa has a skill that moves and inspires people. She’s always been able to do that, even at two years old. We started something special here with the Adventure TEAM Challenge and it will be a shame if we didn’t do more with that.