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San Clemente’s Beth Sanden recently completed the Lima Marathon and scaled the 4,000-foot trail up to Machu Picchu in Peru. Sanden is attempting to become the first survivor of a spinal cord injury to complete a marathon on all seven continents. Courtesy photo
San Clemente’s Beth Sanden recently completed the Lima Marathon and scaled the 4,000-foot trail up to Machu Picchu in Peru. Sanden is attempting to become the first survivor of a spinal cord injury to complete a marathon on all seven continents. Courtesy photo


San Clemente’s Beth Sanden competes in Lima Marathon and comes away with a new goal

By Steve Breazeale

San Clemente resident Beth Sanden went all the way to the Southern Hemisphere to take part in the Lima, Peru Marathon last week but what she came back with is an undertaking as inspiring as her own personal story.

Sanden, 58, got in a cycling accident 11 years ago and was left severely disabled from the waist down, essentially restricting movement to one leg. Sanden, an avid triathlete, refused to let the injury bring her down and has since used her story to help raise funds and awareness for disabled athletes everywhere by competing in marathons around the world.

Her personal quest of completing marathons on all seven continents came one pedal closer to fruition on May 19, after she completed the Lima Marathon. Sanden also scaled the 4,000-foot trail up to the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu while in Peru, using only a cane to help her reach the top.

The Lima Marathon allowed Sanden to cross South America off her continents to-do list and is now left with only Europe and Antarctica to tackle.

What Sanden realized, however, while pedaling through the streets of Lima on her custom hand cycle, was that the local disabled residents competing in the event’s half-marathon were in dire need of equipment. The effects of the third world status bestowed upon the landlocked South American country reared its ugly head in the form of old, sometimes archaic forms of travel the disabled members of society are forced to use out of necessity.

“There were other disabled people but they were in push rims…They had duct taped wheelchairs…they were pushing with their bare hands. Some of the tires were patched with glue,”

Sanden said. “That equipment would never make a full marathon, it was crazy. Some of them looked like they didn’t even fit in their wheelchairs.”

Sanden has raised thousands of dollars to benefit Challenged Athletes Foundation, an organization aimed at helping disabled athletes get back on track and pursue active lifestyles, but right there in the streets of Lima, she decided she needed to go one step further.

Sanden is now reaching out to all willing parties to donate new or gently used equipment to the friends and contacts she made while in Peru, who will in turn dole them out to disabled athletes in need. It’s a grass-roots type of effort that Sanden has had success with in the past, like when she competed in a marathon near Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa several years ago. After witnessing some of the harsher situations the disabled athletes had to overcome there, Sanden was able to collect 17 pieces of equipment for her contacts to pass out only months later.

Beth Sanden completed the Lima Peru Marathon on May 19. Courtesy photo
Beth Sanden completed the Lima Peru Marathon on May 19. Courtesy photo

As someone who has been blazing the disability fundraising path here in southern California for years, Sanden has learned to go about such efforts with a direct approach. She has seen too many organizations claim they will research and donate as much as they can, only to see the results fall short of expectations.

“Stem cell research is great but the money poured into that, I don’t see right away. But through our efforts and with Challenged Athletes Foundation, I see instantaneous results,” Sanden said. “Immediately people can start doing something and feel whole again. Research takes 40 to 50 years, this is instant. We have to do something now.”

Sanden is also raising money to benefit CAF here in the States.

Sanden was the only disabled athlete to be given the go-ahead to compete in the full marathon in Lima in 2013. By the time she’s done with her most recent fundraising endeavor, perhaps there will be more disabled athletes gearing up at the starting line in 2014.

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