Our History

A Founder’s Vision

James Benson, a Boston businessman originally from suburban Chicago, founded World T.E.A.M. with Stephen Whisnant in 1993. As a high school student in McHenry, Illinois in 1960, Benson’s friend, Ricky Prine, was talented not only in the classroom, but also consistently showed signs of great athletic ability. However, Prine was a wheelchair user 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 promised himself that if he had the opportunity, he would create an organization committed to providing more opportunities to individuals living with disabilities (read about World T.E.A.M.‘s initial years in James Benson’s essay, Living the Dream).

Beginnings

Ride Across America 1987

The Ride Across America: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things. World T.E.A.M.’s inaugural program in October, 1987. Photograph courtesy Special Olympics.

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 program.

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. It aired as a CBS Sports special in 1990 and was awarded an Emmy for Outstanding Program Achievement.

James Benson and team Kilimanjaro 1990

James Benson (left) and team members on the Kilimanjaro Confidence Climb, 1990. Photograph courtesy David Heffeman.

Inspired by the positive public reaction to the Kilimanjaro Confidence Climb, Benson and Whisnant chartered World T.E.A.M. 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 create extraordinary challenges while enabling athletes with disabilities worldwide. This vision led to the AXA World Ride, a 13,000-mile bicycle adventure through 16 countries over nine months beginning in March 1995. The program featured more than 10,000 day participants and 400 stage riders. A core team of seven – six with disabilities – undertook the entire challenge. The program 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 during 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 the country. The combined media coverage of the program 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. This film, The Possible Dream, was enthusiastically received and won several national awards.

AXA World Ride 1995.

Budgeted at $4 million, the AXA World Ride traveled 13,000 miles around the world. World T.E.A.M. archive photograph.

World T.E.A.M. 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., in partnership with the organizing committee and program 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. 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. 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. 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.

Vietnam, Long Time Coming promotional poster

Promotion for NBC Sports’ December 26, 1998 broadcast of “Vietnam, Long Time Coming.” World T.E.A.M. archive photograph.

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 program paired 70 disabled athletes 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, at that time board members for World T.E.A.M. 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 Chicago’s 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. co-chairman Peter D. Kiernan spoke to CNN Television and NBC’S Today Show and Channel 12 Daytime Edition about the program.

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 programs of World T.E.A.M.. Held from 1996 through 2003, the auctions provided ongoing fundraising for the 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 World T.E.A.M.‘s inclusive Face of America 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. 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. launched a non-competitive cycling challenge in May 2000 that continues to this day. The inaugural Face of America 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 adaptive 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. 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., 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.

Mountain Madness Logo

On September 8-9, 2001, World T.E.A.M. introduced a new program held in the North Carolina’s high western mountains. 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. 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 program ran the same route again, with over 500 riders from ten countries participating. 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.

Face of America was re-envisioned in 2005 to honor those who suffered injuries in the Global War on Terror. Working closely 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. programs. 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, Face of America was reversed, with a new route from Washington to Gettysburg. A growing number of participants ride in the program, including many active duty members of the armed forces. All want to help reintegrate these adaptive military veterans back into their communities and empower their lives.

New Challenges

Elevation documentary poster

Wild Life Productions produced the 2008 documentary, “Elevation” about the January, 2007 Return to Kilimanjaro expedition.

The July 27‑August 2, 2002 Italian Dolomite Trek from World T.E.A.M. offered an integrated climbing adventure for adaptive and able-bodied 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.

On January 20-31, 2007, World T.E.A.M. sponsored the Return to Kilimanjaro expedition, bringing seven developmentally-adaptive athletes to Africa to climb the continent’s highest mountain. Following the organization’s 1990 expedition, in which only a few athletes reached the summit, the 2007 expedition successfully accomplished its goal. All athletes safely reached Kilimanjaro’s summit and returned. Videographer Mark Fowler and Wild Life Productions released a feature documentary of the expedition in 2008, “Elevation.”

Another new program for 2007 was the Adventure Team Challenge. Held in western Colorado, it is a multi-day, multi-discipline wilderness experience, featuring teams of five with adaptive and able-bodied athletes. The program debuted on June 14-16, 2007 as the Real Deal Inclusive Sports Adventure. This annual program includes off-road cycling, 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. It brought together American and Canadian adaptive veterans in the Pacific Northwest. The participating athletes paddled 82 nautical miles by sea kayaks from Anacortes, Washington through Puget Sound to Vancouver, British Columbia.

World T.E.A.M. sponsored two programs in 2010 for young athletes. In association with Massachusetts’ Unified Sports Program and the Boston Bruins National Hockey League club, World T.E.A.M. provided financial support for a sled hockey program for children with disabilities in Boston. This program was held again in February, 2011, at Boston’s TD Garden. In late September 2010, World T.E.A.M. 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. Directed by corporate partners American Portfolios Financial Services and The Center for Discovery, the Challenge is hosted annually at either the YMCA or at The Center’s headquarters in Harris, New York.

Sea to Shining Sea on the road

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

The Sea to Shining Sea debuted in 2010. A cross-country cycling challenge from San Francisco, California to Virginia Beach, Virginia, the team of mostly military veterans 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 brought together adaptive and able-bodied athletes to overcome obstacles in pursuit of a team goal. A feature documentary about the journey and its participants by director and cinematographer Austin Smithard, Two Shining Seas, debuted to the festival circuit in October, 2012.

In October 2010, World T.E.A.M. 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 adaptive military veterans and able-bodied climbers. Together, they set off to ascend 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 reached the summit of 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 a theatrical release, “High Ground,” released by Stone Circle Pictures and Serac Adventure Films, in February, 2012.

Ike Isaacson

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

In 2011, two new programs for World T.E.A.M. debuted – the Adventure Team Challenge Washington DC in August, and the Family Day Out in November, both held in Washington, D.C. The Adventure Team Challenge brought together teenaged disabled and able-bodied athletes for a day of outdoor recreational sports, including hiking, cycling and canoeing. The Family Day Out offered an afternoon of cycling for adaptive military veterans and their families in Washington, a welcome recreational opportunity away from the veterans hospitals. World T.E.A.M. athletes also participated in several triathlons and in the annual Warrior 100K, an invitational off-road bicycling program in Texas hosted by President George W. Bush. World T.E.A.M. alumni rode with the President in the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s 2011-2015 programs.

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

Lake Tahoe Tunnel

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

The summer of 2012 saw the return of the Sea to Shining Sea cross-country cycling challenge with adaptive military veterans. Sponsored by State Farm Insurance, the team traveled nearly 4,000 miles in two months. 14 adaptive veterans participated in the journey, 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 released following the ride.

The April, 2013 Face of America program from the Pentagon to Gettysburg saw the beginning of growth for this signature program, 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 program provided an opportunity for teens to hike, ride bicycles and canoe. In western Colorado, the Adventure Team Challenge provided adaptive 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 program 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 in Gettysburg. Photograph by Richard Rhinehart.

The 2014-2018 Face of America Gettysburg programs welcomed a record number of adaptive military veterans from across the nation, Canada and Europe. The late April rides saw more than 100 adaptive veterans joined by more than 450 able-bodied active duty and retired military, and civilian riders each year.

The inaugural CanAm Veterans’ Challenge from World T.E.A.M. in June, 2014 saw a team of 15 American, Canadian and Danish injured veterans pedal 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 commemorative book, Capital to Capital: The Inspiring CanAm Veterans’ Challenge was released in digital format.

Giving a thumbs-up for the Challenge.

The 2016 Coastal Team Challenge on Long Island’s southern coast was a popular program that was well appreciated by the athletes. Photograph by Sarah Bell.

In August 2014, the Coastal Team Challenge returned, relaunched as an overnight sea kayak journey along the southern coast of Long Island, New York. Although the inaugural Coastal Team Challenge in 2009 featured adaptive military veterans from Canada and the United States, the 2014 Challenge teamed ten developmentally-disabled civilian athletes from Long Island with able-bodied athletes. The 2015 and 2016 Challenges featured additional developmentally-disabled athletes invited by Long Island’s Independent Group Home Living, teamed with able-bodied coaches.

World T.E.A.M. returned to its North Carolina home in November 2015 with the Adventure Team Challenge North Carolina, a team challenge hosted at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. Presented by MetLife, the three-stage program included athletes from across the United States participating in an experience that featured off-road cycling, river rafting, rope courses and climbing.

Following a test ride in 2015, Face of America Liberty saw nearly 70 cyclists participate in an October 2017 bicycle and hand cycle ride from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York to the World Trade Center in Manhattan. The single day program covering nearly 60 miles along the scenic Hudson River valley was well-received by the participating athletes. It returned in 2018 with a new route from Sleepy Hollow north along the Hudson River to scenic Trophy Point in West Point.

Learn more about the history of World T.E.A.M.

World T.E.A.M. Sports Program Videos

Listing of major documentaries and films about World T.E.A.M. programs and our 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.

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

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.

Face of America – September 2002
A Moving Memorial
CNN/World T.E.A.M., 2002
Purchase: DVD available through World T.E.A.M.

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

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

Return to Kilimanjaro – January 2007
Elevation
Wild Life Productions, 2008
Purchase: Currently unavailable

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

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

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. 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.

President Bill Clinton AXA World Ride Message

Download and watch President Bill Clinton’s message and endorsement of World T.E.A.M. and our 1995 AXA World Ride (QuickTime format).

Watch the Fox News report on World T.E.A.M. 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. 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.‘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.‘s 1998 cross-country ride in Vietnam.

“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.‘s 2011 Face of America Gettysburg.

Presenting sponsor Alteryx created a promotional video for World T.E.A.M.‘s Adventure Team Challenge Colorado. 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.‘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.‘s 2010 Sea to Shining Sea cross-country ride began theatrical screenings nationally in the autumn of 2012.

World T.E.A.M. changes lives through sports – the 2015 promotional video features several programs, including Sea to Shining Sea, CanAm Veterans’ Challenge and Adventure Team Challenge Colorado.