Ready to know more about San Diego?


Volunteer Diaries: Challenged Athletes Foundation

Dr. Bryon Solberg shares the joys of volunteering for local athletes with disabilities
Challenged Athletes Foundation volunteer Dr. Bryon Solberg at the finish line of the San Diego Triathlon Challenge

For 30 years, Challenged Athletes Foundation has been empowering people with disabilities to play sports. The organization helps children and adults with physical disabilities acquire adaptive equipment that’s often not covered by insurance, hosts adaptive sports clinics and camps, and sponsors competitions around the country. To date, CAF has raised more than $159 million and funded grant requests from people in all 50 states, 70 countries, and more than 100 different sports. 

Dr. Bryon Solberg is an avid runner, hiker and cyclist who was born without an odontoid bone, which protects the vertebrae from separating. Because of surgeries to treat the condition, he has had to relearn how to walk twice. But he’s continued to run and has completed more than 192 marathons using canes and braces. He is also a longtime CAF volunteer. 

What made you want to become a volunteer for CAF?

My parents have modeled, inspired, and included me in volunteering for as long as I can remember. My first day with CAF at the La Jolla Cove event in October of 2002—a year and a half after my spinal cord injury—changed my life by showing me so many others with physical challenges living an active lifestyle.

I did sporadic volunteering with CAF for the next couple of years, but in November of 2006, I was placed in the office and learned how to prepare, address, and post thank you letters. The wonderful staff made me feel so welcome and appreciated and invited me to come back the next week, and so this 17-plus year journey of volunteering with CAF began. 

What do your volunteer duties entail? 

When I began with CAF, there were only six full-time employees, so I got to help each of them with their tasks. I did thank you letters, photocopying fliers, filing financial donations, following up with matching grants, posting packages and letters, finding links for communications, making phone calls to donors, and leading the mailing of thousands of grants each spring. For the last few years, they have trained me to open headquarteArs, cover the front desk for arriving visitors and packages, help take care of the hundreds of emails we get each week, and answer phone calls. Each of these tasks that I can cover frees the staff to do the work that they are trained to do and have so much knowledge and expertise. 

Can you describe your favorite or most memorable experience while volunteering? 

I so love the phone calls where someone is new to CAF and I can get them onto our website to sign up to become involved with us, whether it be as an athlete, donor, fundraiser, and/or volunteer. My favorite event each year is something I just watch, the Kids Run and Kids Roll at our CAF Community Challenge at Mission Bay. First, the kids run the course to our cheers using their prosthetics, then the kids who use a wheelchair roll the course. It is so inspiring and touching to see their determination and pride in being able to do this event. I know that in some small ways all of my work through the years help make it possible. 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced? 

Learning new things. I am a critical care and anesthesiology doctor by training, and my office skills at the start were very minimal. The staff have been very patient and helpful to me over these 17-plus years. 

When I get tired on some of the huge projects I have had—especially when I was scanning many years of thousands of grant applications in 2015 when CAF was moving away from paper—I remind myself of some of the great quotes I have heard about volunteering:

“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others lives on.”
“If your dreams don’t include others, then your dreams are not big enough.” 
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” 

Any advice for someone considering volunteering as a way to give back? 

Find an organization that touches your heart and know that the first place you try may not work out. I had been volunteering with another organization and after a recent leadership change, that place was no longer a good fit. I am so glad looking back that this had happened, as otherwise I would not have been available to try volunteering at CAF.

When one is volunteering at “the right place,” one gets back way more than they can try to give. 

Share this post

Contact Us

1230 Columbia Street, Suite 800,

San Diego, CA