A Founder’s Vision
James Benson, a Boston businessman originally from suburban Chicago, founded World T.E.A.M. Sports in 1993. As a high school student in McHenry, Illinois in 1960, Benson became aware of a fellow student, Ricky Prine, who was talented not only in the classroom but also consistently showed signs of great athletic ability. However, Prine was disabled and was consistently excluded from activities by his peers. Benson saw something different in Prine and recognized him as a capable person, notwithstanding his disability. It was through this formative experience that Benson made a promise that if ever given the opportunity, he would create an organization committed to providing more opportunities to individuals living with a disability and he would use the power of sports to make them possible (read about the initial years of World T.E.A.M. Sports in James Benson’s essay, Living the Dream).
The Early Years
In October 1987, Benson and Stephen Whisnant, who would later become World T.E.A.M. Sports’ first Executive Director, were intrigued by the possibility of accomplishing an athletic achievement previously thought to be impossible. This led them to organize the Ride Across America, a month-long, 2,650-mile bicycle ride from Newport Beach, California to Jacksonville Beach, Florida in conjunction with California Special Olympics. The ride included disabled riders, many of whom had never before participated in an outdoor event. This ride was followed in February, 1990 by the Kilimanjaro Confidence Climb, which saw 12 mentally challenged athletes and 15 non-disabled athletes form a team to attempt this difficult climb over nine days. Unfortunately, owing to inclement weather, only a portion of the team successfully reached the summit. The 1990 documentary film made during this climb, entitled Let Me Be Brave, was narrated by renowned sportscaster James Brown and aired as a CBS Sports special; Let Me Be Brave went on to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Program Achievement that same year.
Inspired by the public reaction to the Kilimanjaro Confidence Climb, Benson and Whisnant chartered World T.E.A.M. Sports as a non-profit organization in 1993. With the new organization, they had a broader vision – they wanted to achieve these extraordinary challenges while enabling athletes with disabilities worldwide. The realization of that vision led to the AXA World Ride, a 13,000-mile bicycle adventure through 16 countries over nine months in 1995, featuring over 10,000 day participants and 400 stage riders. Amazingly, there were five “core” disabled riders who rode every mile of this incredible journey! A documentary film narrated by Charles Kurault, entitled World Ride: The Possible Dream aired as a CBS Sports Special on Thanksgiving Day, 1995.
World T.E.A.M. Sports served as the organizer for the August 1996 NationsBank Paralympic Torch Relay from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta. For ten days, World T.E.A.M. Sports, in a partnership with the organizing committee and event sponsors, crisscrossed busy avenues, back roads, rivers and lakes. President Bill Clinton hosted the organizers and the first torchbearer on the south lawn of the White House on the morning of August 6. The final torchbearer was greeted by 70,000 spectators in Centennial Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremonies of the Paralympic Games. World T.E.A.M. Sports advisory board member, Mark Wellman, scaled the steep cauldron tower and ignited the Paralympic Torch.
The success of the 1995 AXA World Ride led the organization to tackle another great challenge: pairing former combatants from both sides of the conflict in Vietnam to overcome both their disabilities and their prior animosities. Known as the Vietnam Challenge, this event paired 70 disabled riders from the United States and the former North Vietnam with 20 able-bodied coaches on a 1,250-mile bicycle expedition that led from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City in January 1998. The resulting 120-minute documentary film from Kartemquin Films, Vietnam Long Time Coming, was hosted by Dick Enberg and aired as an NBC Sports Special on Veterans Day 1998; it too became an Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Program Achievement. World T.E.A.M. Sports co-chairman Peter D. Kiernan spoke to CNN Television and NBC’S Today Show and Channel 12 Daytime Edition about the ride.
Becoming the “Face of America”
May 2000 saw the launch of an ongoing series of bicycle events in the United States that endures to this day. The first Face of America ride partnered with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and featured two teams departing simultaneously from San Francisco and Boston on May 13. The teams met at the Memorial Arch in St. Louis, Missouri on June 3. Each team covered over 1,400 miles and included disabled and able-bodied riders from 40 states and ten countries. Participant disabilities included spinal cord injured (paraplegic and quadriplegic), visually impaired/blind, cancer survivors, hearing impaired, cerebral palsy, intellectual and developmental disability, amputee (single and double) and brain injury. A total of 100 core and stage riders participated in the ride, including participants as young as seven years and as old as 77 years.
Following the tragedy of the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York, the September 2002 Face of America became a “moving memorial” with more than 1,400 participants riding 277 miles in three days from Ground Zero in New York City to the Pentagon just outside of Washington, D.C. 2002 World T.E.A.M. Sports co-chairman Peter D. Kiernan provided a preview of the ride to New York’s Channel 1 television. A year later, on September 12-14, 2003, the ride was reprised, with over 500 riders from ten countries coming together to be a part of the Face of America. Cyclists with and without disabilities rode from Battery Park City to the ferry past the Statue of Liberty to the shores of New Jersey, continuing through Delaware and Maryland, ending their exhilarating ride in Washington DC.
After a brief hiatus, the Face of America ride was re-envisioned in April 2006 to honor those who suffered injuries in the Global War on Terror that followed the 2001 attacks. Working with the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and The National Navy Medical Center, the 2006 ride raised over $100,000 for future World T.E.A.M. Sports events. Reporter Ally Donnelly wrote and produced The New England Cable News Network’s award-winning 30 minute documentary about the ride in 2006, The Long Journey Home. In 2008, the ride was redirected, from Washington to Gettysburg. It has featured a growing number of participants, including many active duty members of the armed forces, who want to help reintegrate these wounded warriors back into their communities. To learn more about the annual Face of America rides, please visit the official event page.
In January 2007, World T.E.A.M. Sports sponsored the Return to Kilimanjaro expedition, bringing seven mentally challenged athletes to Africa’s highest mountain. Although the 1990 expedition was unsuccessful in that all participants did not reach the summit, the 2007 expedition met its goal of safely reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro and returning.
The Adventure TEAM Challenge in Colorado is a multi-day, multi-event outdoor event, featuring teams of five with disabled and non-disabled athletes. Envisioned by Golden, Colorado adventurer Erik Weihenmayer, the Adventure TEAM Challenge made its debut in June, 2007 as the Real Deal Inclusive Sports Adventure. The annual event includes mountain biking, river rafting, climbing and other challenging physical activities. NBC Sports’ Jeep World of Adventure Sports featured the 2008 event.
In August, 2009, World T.E.A.M. Sports hosted the Coastal Team Challenge, an eight day adventure from the organization’s Military Initiative which brought together American and Canadian injured veterans in the Pacific Northwest. The participating soldiers traveled 82 nautical miles by sea kayaks from Anacortes, Washington through Puget Sound to Vancouver, British Columbia.
World T.E.A.M. Sports sponsored two events in 2010 for young athletes. With Massachusetts’ Unified Sports Program and the Boston Bruins National Hockey League club, World T.E.A.M. Sports provided support for a sled hockey event for children with disabilities in Boston. This event was held again in February, 2011, at Boston’s TD Garden. In late September 2010, World T.E.A.M. Sports helped sponsor a three day Adventure TEAM Challenge for teenagers age 15 to 19 at Frost Valley, in New York’s Catskill Mountains. The Frost Valley event successfully returned in June, 2011 and 2012.
The Sea to Shining Sea debuted in 2010, and features a cross-country bike ride from San Francisco, California to Virginia Beach, Virginia. In 2010, participants rode 3,687 miles over 64 days through 14 states on their journey across America, visiting large cities and small towns. Like the 1987 Ride Across America, the Sea to Shining Sea ride brought disabled and able-bodied athletes together to overcome obstacles in pursuit of a team goal – crossing the North American continent. A documentary about the ride and the participants by veteran director and cinematographer Austin Smithard, Two Shining Seas, will be released in 2012.
In October 2010, World T.E.A.M. Sports directed the inspiring Soldiers to the Summit climb, a part of the organization’s ongoing Military Initiative. The expedition brought together a team of disabled and able-bodied climbers who ascended to the summit of 20,075 foot Lobuche East, a rugged ice-covered peak in Nepal near Everest Base Camp. Overcoming obstacles along their trek, the team successfully summitted Lobuche and returned safely to the United States. The expedition generated two documentaries, Conquering the Climb, on the Pentagon Channel that debuted in March, 2011, and a theatrical release, “High Ground,” by Stone Circle Pictures and Serac Adventure Films, which debuted at the Boulder International Film Festival in February, 2012.
In 2011, two new events on the World T.E.A.M. Sports schedule debuted – the Adventure Teen Challenge in August and the Family Day Out in November, both in Washington, DC. The Adventure Teen Challenge brought together teenaged disabled and able-bodied athletes for a day of outdoor recreational sports, including hiking, bicycling and canoeing. The Family Day Out was an afternoon of cycling for wounded veterans and their families in Washington, an opportunity for recreation away from the veterans hospitals. World T.E.A.M. Sports athletes also participated in several triathlons and in the Warrior 100K, an invitational mountain biking event in western Texas in April 2011 and in 2012, hosted by former President George W. Bush.
In late February 2012, World T.E.A.M. Sports hosted the second Soldiers to the Summit event at the Snowbird Resort in Utah. This World T.E.A.M. Sports Military Initiative event provided an opportunity for wounded warriors to learn and experience winter snow sports such as skiing and snowboarding. The Soldiers to the Summit series continues the organization’s long history with disabled veterans.
The summer of 2012 also saw the return of the Sea to Shining Sea cross-country bicycle ride with wounded warriors from our nation’s military. Sponsored by State Farm, the May 28-July 28 ride traveled from San Francisco to Virginia Beach, a distance of nearly 4,000 miles.
The April, 2013 Face of America event was the largest in the last decade, with more than 100 injured veterans riding with more than 400 able-bodied participants. Included in the ride was a team from Canada’s Soldier On organization.
In the coming years, additional events will be added to the World T.E.A.M. Sports schedule.
Learn more about the history of World T.E.A.M. Sports
World T.E.A.M. Sports Events and Expeditions Videos
World Ride: The Possible Dream trailer, from CBS Emmy-Award-winning special on the 1995 AXA World Ride (QuickTime format). With Charles Kuralt.
President Bill Clinton message and endorsement of World T.E.A.M. Sports from 1995 AXA World Ride (QuickTime format).
Fox News report on World T.E.A.M. Sports from 2000 (QuickTime format). Includes AXA World Ride 1995, Vietnam Challenge 1998 and the 2000 Face of America ride. Includes past and current World T.E.A.M. Sports board members Christopher Reeve, Greg LeMond, and Erik Weihenmayer.
“Let Me Be Brave” is an Emmy-Award winning documentary about World T.E.A.M. Sports‘s 1990 climb of Africa’s Kilimanjaro. Here is the trailer for the film.
“Vietnam, Long Time Coming” is an Emmy-Award winning documentary about World T.E.A.M. Sports‘s 1998 cross-country ride in Vietnam.
The 2009 Adventure TEAM Challenge in Colorado was featured in a short report by filmmaker Bill Hanson.
“Conquering the Climb” from The Pentagon Channel reported on our October, 2010 Soldiers to the Summit expedition to climb 20,075-foot Lobuche East in Nepal.
Maryland Public Television produced the feature, “A Renewed Spirit,” for their series, Outdoors Maryland, in 2011. The short feature covered World T.E.A.M. Sports‘s 2011 Face of America ride.
Presenting sponsor Alteryx created a promotional video for World T.E.A.M. Sports‘s Adventure TEAM Challenge. This video, released in March 2012, includes video from the 2011 Challenge.
Stone Circle Pictures released Michael Brown’s documentary “High Ground” about World T.E.A.M. Sports‘s 2010 Soldiers to the Summit expedition to climb 20,075-foot Lobuche East in Nepal. Here is the trailer for the film.
Director Austin Smithard’s “Two Shining Seas” documentary about World T.E.A.M. Sports‘s 2010 Sea to Shining Sea cross-country ride began theatrical screenings nationally in the autumn of 2012.