Jim MacLaren's Life An Inspiration To All - page 2

By Jeff Ferrantino on June 30, 2007

Jim MacLarenHis many friends quickly decided to raise funds for his recovery and to provide him with an adaptable van. They organized the first San Diego Triathlon Challenge in 1993, an event that soon grew into the Challenged Athletes Foundation, a charity that has raised more than $6 million to support and help physically-challenged athletes around the world become "whole" through sports. MacLaren used to run a marathon in Germany, which was a benefit for children's cancer. He said he always dreamed of having a similar event in his own country.

"We raised a phenomenal amount of money," MacLaren said of the German benefit. "I thought, 'One day I would really love to do something like this in the States.' I had to break my neck to make it happen!"

While he attempted to maintain a positive attitude following the second accident, MacLaren eventually reached a point in his recovery where his limitations weighed heavily on his soul. That led to a downward spiral that at one point included a serious cocaine addiction. MacLaren would later hit rock bottom on the same stretch of road where he had once crossed the finish line as an Ironman champion in Hawaii. It was then that MacLaren found his will to live again.

"I had six years at the top of the physical world, it was time for me to work on the inside stuff," he said. "I think we all get caught up in the illusion, it's what we own. I don't think any of us goes to our grave and says, 'Jeez, I wish I spent two more hours at the office.' "

Today, MacLaren is a very successful motivational speaker. He said being confined to a wheelchair has given him a much greater appreciation for living and allowed him to see life in an entirely different light — a light that he now shares with others.

"As a motivational speaker, I always try to speak to people about empowering themselves and taking advantage of the gifts that life has," said MacLaren. "Nowadays, even the people I like I learn more about, because suddenly, instead of racing there and I'm speaking here, I can sit and listen to people. Yes, I get hired as a motivational speaker to inspire others, but people inspire me."

"He's such a special person," said Stephanie Mapelli, a past participant in the San Diego Triathlon Challenge. "I can't describe it other than his aura. There is a good soul in him and it brings out the love and respect of his fellow athletes."

In 2005, MacLaren launched his Choose Living Foundation (CAF), which was established to support his philanthropic work and allow him to contribute his time, energy, resources and newfound exposure to help people in need across the world. That same year, MacLaren and Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards. Yeboah was born in Ghana with a deformed right leg, but he was able to become self-sufficient in a society where the disabled (almost 10 percent of the population) are abandoned, shunned and hopeless. To show his countrymen that disability doesn't mean inability, he pedaled a bike donated by CAF 379 miles around Ghana, using only his left leg. He now works vigorously to ensure that opportunities are available to all physically-challenged Ghanaians. The ensuing widespread media attention following the ESPY's led to several televised appearances for MacLaren, including appearances on "Oprah Winfrey" and "Jim Rome."

Said MacLaren: "As athletes, we learn discipline and we learn how to deal with pain, and we learn how to appreciate the moments of training and racing.

"In life, sometimes we don't. We get to the pain and we say, 'Ooh, that hurts, let's stop.' My point is, I think life is just one big adventure and that we need to truly live in the moment and appreciate them. Everybody's got their own disability. Maybe I'm luckier than most people, because mine's pretty visible."

Perhaps MacLaren has already taught us that lesson.

For more on Jim MacLaren and his Choose Living Foundation, visit JimMacLaren.com and ChooseLiving.org.