Our History

A Founder’s Vision

James Benson, a Boston businessman originally from suburban Chicago, founded World T.E.A.M. Sports with Stephen Whisnant 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 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 to himself that if ever given the opportunity, he would create an organization committed to providing more opportunities to individuals living with disabilities (read about World T.E.A.M. Sports’ initial years in James Benson’s essay, Living the Dream).

Beginnings

James Benson at the 2009 Adventure TEAM Challenge

Founder James Benson takes a call at the 2009 Adventure Team Challenge Colorado. Photograph by Kabao Messner.

In 1987, Benson and colleague Stephen Whisnant were intrigued by the possibility of creating an athletic achievement previously thought to be impossible. This led them to organize the October 1987 Ride Across America, a month-long, 2,650-mile bicycle relay from Newport Beach, California to Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Benefiting California Special Olympics, the ride included 25 developmentally-disabled riders, many of whom had never before participated in an outdoor event.

The Ride Across America was followed in February, 1990 by the Kilimanjaro Confidence Climb. This event brought together 12 developmentally-disabled athletes and 15 non-disabled athletes as a team to climb Africa’s highest peak over nine days. Unfortunately, owing to inclement weather, only a few team members successfully reached the 19,341-foot summit. A 1990 documentary film of the climb, Let Me Be Brave, was narrated by renowned sportscaster James Brown and aired as a CBS Sports special in 1990. This documentary won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Program Achievement.

Inspired by the positive public reaction to the Kilimanjaro Confidence Climb, Benson and Whisnant chartered World T.E.A.M. Sports as a North Carolina-based non-profit organization in June, 1993. Whisnant agreed to serve as the organization’s first Executive Director. With the new organization, a broader vision arose – the directors wanted to achieve 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 beginning in March 1995. The ride featured more than 10,000 day participants and 400 stage riders. A core team of seven – six with disabilities – undertook the entire challenge. The event was embraced worldwide, with most American Ambassadors and many foreign heads of state greeting the group in their respective countries. The media was drawn to the event and coverage was extensive – even through the 4,000 mile trek in Russia. Russian National Television covered the event and the team was featured four times to over 50,000,000 households throughout Russia. The combined media coverage of the ride totaled over 300,000,000 impressions. Another highly acclaimed documentary film was produced, airing twice on CBS, and narrated by the Emmy-award winning host, Charles Kuralt. The film, The Possible Dream, was enthusiastically received and won several national awards.

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 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.

In February, 1997, an inclusive team of six individuals traveled to Antarctica to compete in one of the most unusual running events in the world – the Last Marathon. All members of the World T.E.A.M. Sports team finished the event and were featured in national media stories.

Athletes from the organization participated in the four-day, 300-mile Xerox Capital Ride in the Carolinas in September, 1997. World T.E.A.M. Sports also directed the All Sports Day in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1997. In this event, Olympic and Paralympic athletes offered hands-on swimming, running, bicycling, tennis and climbing clinics to more than 800 participants.

The success of the 1995 AXA World Ride led the organization to undertake another great challenge: pairing former combatants from the Vietnam War to overcome both their disabilities and prior animosities. Known as the Vietnam Challenge, this January 1998 event paired 70 disabled riders from the United States and Vietnam with 20 able-bodied coaches on a 16-day, 1,250-mile bicycle expedition from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. Participants ranged in age from 11 to 78, with three blind cyclists and eight hand cyclists. Joining the riders was Tour de France winner Greg LeMond and long distance swimmer Diana Nyad, both members of the World T.E.A.M. Sports board. Late in the ride, as the team approached Ho Chi Minh City, honorary chair Senator John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador Pete Peterson joined the team.

The resulting feature documentary film about the Challenge from Kartemquin Films, Vietnam Long Time Coming, was well-received by critics and the public. Hosted by sportscaster Dick Enberg and narrated by actor Joe Mantegna, it aired as an NBC Sports Special on Veterans Day 1998. The film received an Emmy Award 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.

Nearly 100 celebrities, sports figures, and community leaders, including Robin Williams, Madonna, Greg LeMond, George Steinbrenner, Donald Trump, Christopher Reeve, Tom Brokaw, Yoko Ono, Britney Spears, Rudolph Giuliani, Lance Armstrong, Shaquille O’Neal, Elizabeth Taylor and Arnold Schwarzenegger donated bicycles for six silent auctions and receptions benefiting the ongoing activities of World T.E.A.M. Sports. Held from 1996 through 2003, the auctions provided ongoing fundraising for the non-profit organization. At the 1999 auction, over 400 people filled the Sports Club/LA in New York City for a festive and entertaining program that included special remarks by cyclist Lance Armstrong and Sean “Puffy” Combs as well as musical entertainment by True This. The event was co-chaired by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Lance Armstrong. The May 13, 2002 auction at The Lighthouse in New York City raised funds to support the Face of America Ride and was attended by Senator Charles Schumer, Senator John Kerry, Christopher Reeve and others.

Becoming the “Face of America”

With the beginning of a new decade, World T.E.A.M. Sports athletes regularly participated in outdoor sporting events nationally. These events included the Los Angeles Marathon, The Lance Armstrong Foundation Ride for the Roses in Austin, Texas, the Colorado Relay in Glenwood Springs, Colorado and the Turkey Trot in Charlotte, North Carolina.

World T.E.A.M. Sports launched a series of non-competitive bicycle rides in May 2000 that continue to this day. The inaugural Face of America ride partnered with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and featured two teams of about 50 riders each departing simultaneously from San Francisco and Boston on May 13. 2000 Face of America LogoEach team rode over 1,400 miles in 22 days, and included disabled and able-bodied cyclists from 40 states and ten countries. The teams met at the Memorial Arch in St. Louis, Missouri on June 3. 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 six years and as old as 77 years.

In November 2000, World T.E.A.M. Sports athletes traveled to Cuba to participate in the Havana Marathon. The first American team to run in the marathon, team members also met with the Cuban Sports Federation for the Disabled. At the meeting, team member Carlos Moleda, on behalf of World T.E.A.M. Sports, demonstrated and presented to the Cuban Paralympic Committee a Stage One hand cycle donated by Freedom Ryder and a racing wheelchair donated by HallsWheels — gifts that provided much needed equipment to disabled Cuban athletes.

The Italian Dolomite Trek from World T.E.A.M. Sports offered an integrated climbing adventure for women along the Via Ferrata, an extensive system of high mountain routes in the Italian Alps. The group traveled together to the Brenta region in the Dolomites, a magnificent mountain range of bold rock towers and spires, cliffs, and ridges. The Via Ferrata is an ancient trail built to transport iron from the mines to the melting furnace in the western Italian Alps. The trail is a spectacular series of narrow ledges, and walkways protected by steel cables, vertical iron ladders, and narrow gullies and ridges that use cables, pegs and steel rungs pounded into the mountain to aid in climbing and for protection.Mountain Madness Logo

On September 8-9, 2001, World T.E.A.M. Sports introduced a new event held in the mountains of North Carolina. Similar to the world-renowned Hood to Coast Relay in Oregon, the Mountain Madness Challenge Relay in Asheville attracted teams to participate in a challenging 160 mile team running relay. The route from the top of Beech Mountain to Asheville took teams along the Blue Ridge Parkway to the top of Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern United States.

Like much of America, the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York affected World T.E.A.M. Sports. The September 2002 Face of America was dedicated as a “moving memorial” to the victims of the attacks. It included more than 1,400 participants riding 277 miles in three days from Ground Zero in New York City to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. 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 ran the same route again, with over 500 riders from ten countries coming together to participate. 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 D.C.

The Face of America was re-envisioned in 2005 to honor those who suffered injuries in the Global War on Terror. Working with the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and The National Navy Medical Center, the April 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 2006 documentary film about the ride, 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.

New Challenges

Sea to Shining Sea on the road

Riders cross mid-America in the 2010 Sea to Shining Sea Ride. Photograph by Van Brinson.

On January 20-31, 2007, World T.E.A.M. Sports sponsored the Return to Kilimanjaro expedition, bringing seven developmentally-disabled athletes to Africa to climb the continent’s highest mountain. Following the 1990 expedition, in which only a few of the participants reached the summit, the 2007 expedition successfully accomplished its goal of safely reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro and returning.

Another new event in 2007 was the Adventure Team Challenge. Held in western Colorado, it is a multi-day, multi-event outdoor event, featuring teams of five with disabled and non-disabled athletes. Envisioned by blind Colorado adventurer Erik Weihenmayer, the event debuted June 14-16, 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 a short documentary about 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 veterans 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 financial 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 sponsored a three day Adventure Team Challenge for developmentally disabled teenagers and young adults at the Frost Valley YMCA, in New York’s Catskill Mountains. The Frost Valley event, directed by corporate partner American Portfolios Financial Services, also was held in June 2011 and 2012, and in September 2013 and 2014.

The Sea to Shining Sea debuted in 2010. A cross-country bicycle and hand cycle ride from San Francisco, California to Virginia Beach, Virginia, the team of mostly veteran participants rode 3,687 miles over 64 days through 14 states. Visiting large cities and small towns like the 1987 Ride Across America, the Sea to Shining Sea ride brought together disabled and able-bodied athletes to overcome obstacles in pursuit of a team goal. A feature documentary about the ride and the participants by director and cinematographer Austin Smithard, Two Shining Seas, debuted to the festival circuit in October, 2012.

Ike Isaacson

Ike Isaacson climbs Nepal’s Lobuche in October, 2010 as a member of World T.E.A.M. Sports’ Soldiers to the Summit expedition. Photo by Didrik Johnck.

In October 2010, World T.E.A.M. Sports directed the inspiring Soldiers to the Summit Nepal expedition, a part of the organization’s ongoing Military Initiative. The three week expedition brought together a team of disabled veterans and able-bodied climbers who ascended the 20,075 foot Lobuche East, a rugged ice-covered peak in Nepal near Everest Base Camp. Overcoming obstacles along their trek, the team successfully climbed Lobuche and returned safely to the United States. Two documentaries were released about the expedition, Conquering the Climb, on the Pentagon Channel debuting in March, 2011, and the theatrical release, “High Ground,” released by Stone Circle Pictures and Serac Adventure Films, in February, 2012.

In 2011, two new events on the World T.E.A.M. Sports schedule debuted – the Adventure Team Challenge Washington DC in August and the Family Day Out in November, both held in Washington, DC. The Adventure Team 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 offered an afternoon of cycling for wounded veterans and their families in Washington, a welcome recreational opportunity away from the veterans hospitals. World T.E.A.M. Sports athletes also participated in several triathlons and in the annual Warrior 100K, an invitational mountain biking event in Texas hosted by former President George W. Bush. Athletes rode with the President in 2011-2014 rides.

In late February 2012, World T.E.A.M. Sports hosted the Soldiers to the Summit winter camp at Utah’s Snowbird Resort. This World T.E.A.M. Sports Military Initiative event provided injured veterans an opportunity to learn and enjoy winter snow sports, including skiing and snowboarding.

Lake Tahoe Tunnel

The 2012 Sea to Shining Sea team ride through a tunnel along Lake Tahoe, California. Photograph by Parker Feierbach.

The summer of 2012 also saw the return of the Sea to Shining Sea cross-country bicycle ride with disabled military veterans. Sponsored by State Farm Insurance, the team traveled nearly 4,000 miles in two months. 14 disabled veterans participated in the ride, using hand cycles, recumbent bicycles, tandems and standard touring bicycles. Participating veterans included individuals with blindness and lost limbs, as well as veterans with Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury. Leaving San Francisco Bay on May 28, the team rode through snow showers in the high Nevada desert, across the Continental Divide in Colorado, and descended into record heat in the American Midwest with temperatures approaching 110 degrees. Arriving in Virginia Beach on July 28, the team celebrated their achievement with a gala beach reception. A limited edition commemorative book, Shining Seas, was produced following the ride.

The April, 2013 Face of America event from the Pentagon to Gettysburg was the largest in a decade, with more than 100 injured veterans participating alongside more than 400 able-bodied civilians, active-duty and retired military. A team of military veterans from Canada’s Soldier On organization participated in the two day, 110-mile ride.

Developmentally-disabled teens from the Washington, DC region participated in the second Adventure Team Challenge at Washington DC in early August 2013. Held along the Potomac River, the one day event provided an opportunity for teens to hike, ride bicycles and canoe. In western Colorado, the Adventure Team Challenge provided disabled and able-bodied athletes from across the United States a three-stage course in the high desert west of Grand Junction. Following the 2012 Challenge in the same region of Colorado, the 2013 event brought many new participants, including several military veterans with disabilities.

Finish for the 2014 Face of America ride.

Riders finish the 2014 Face of America ride in Gettysburg. Photograph by Richard Rhinehart.

The 2014 Face of America ride saw a record number of injured veterans from across the nation, Canada and Europe. The late April ride saw more than 130 injured veterans joined by more than 450 able-bodied active duty and retired military, and civilian riders.

The CanAm Veterans’ Challenge from World T.E.A.M. Sports in June, 2014 saw a team of 15 American, Canadian and Danish injured veterans ride from Ottawa, Ontario to Washington D.C. on bicycles, hand cycles and recumbent bicycles. Passing through Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia en route to Washington, the team’s journey was covered by local and regional media. In addition, a digital commemorative book, “Capital to Capital: The Inspiring CanAm Veterans’ Challenge from World T.E.A.M. Sports” was released in digital format. In August, the Coastal Team Challenge returned, this time as a sea kayak journey along the southern coast of Long Island, New York. Although the first Coastal Team Challenge in 2009 featured injured veterans, the 2014 Challenge included ten developmentally-disabled athletes from Long Island.

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 Event and Expedition Videos

Listing of major documentaries and films about World T.E.A.M. Sports events and participating athletes.

Kilimanjaro Confidence Climb – February 1990
Let Me Be Brave
CBS Television, 1990
Purchase: VHS available through Amazon.com. DVD available through World T.E.A.M. Sports.

AXA World Ride – March 1995
World Ride ’95: The Possible Dream
CBS Television, 1995
Purchase: DVD available through World T.E.A.M. Sports.

Vietnam Challenge – January 1998
Vietnam, Long Time Coming
NBC Television, 1998
Kartemquin Films
Streaming Online: Snag Films
Purchase: DVD available through Kartemquin Films, Amazon.com and World T.E.A.M. Sports.

Face of America – April 2006
The Long Journey Home
New England Cable News Network, 2006
Purchase: DVD available through World T.E.A.M. Sports

Sea to Shining Sea – May 2010
Two Shining Seas
Aero Film, 2012
Purchase: DVD available through World T.E.A.M. Sports

Military Initiative Soldiers to the Summit – October 2010
Conquering the Climb
Recon, The Pentagon Channel, 2011
Streaming Online: Pentagon Channel/YouTube

Military Initiative Soldiers to the Summit – October 2010
High Ground
Stone Circle Pictures, 2012
Purchase: DVD available through Virgil Films and Amazon.com

Contact World T.E.A.M. Sports for pricing and availability of DVDs.

Watch World Ride: The Possible Dream trailer, from CBS Emmy-Award-winning special on the 1995 AXA World Ride (QuickTime format). With Charles Kuralt.

Watch President Bill Clinton’s message and endorsement of World T.E.A.M. Sports of the 1995 AXA World Ride (QuickTime format).

Watch the 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 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.