By Gloria Suarez, Director, Achilles International Houston
About Achilles International Houston (Achilles): Achilles International Houston transforms the lives of people with disabilities through athletic programs and social connection. Achilles breaks down barriers to start lines for athletes with disabilities and empowers them to cross the finish line.
Personal Story: How Marine Corps Veteran Jeff Chaffin Found his Home with Achilles
Before Marine Corps Veteran Jeff Chaffin joined Achilles Houston in 2012, he was part of a few veterans’ organizations but always felt out of place. Chaffin, who lost his leg stateside due to PTSD-related issues, was put in touch with Achilles International Houston. Chaffin went to the first Achilles workout in Houston and has remained a member ever since.
Chaffin thrives on being active and in the present. He had researched various adaptive sports and found competing on a handcycle was where he felt best. Chaffin was the first hand-cyclist to do the Woodlands Marathon in March of 2013, the Tour de Houston and countless others. As a handcycle athlete he found himself – not only participating, but advocating for the sport, educating race directors on how to make their events truly inclusive. At the time, the only road races that permitted handcycles were New York, Boston and the Marine Corp Marathon in DC.
In time, local race directors in Texas began to see the possibilities of including the handcycle in their events. This past March, Chaffin was the first solo hand-cyclist to attempt the Texas Independence Relay – 200 miles from Gonzalez to Houston.
Chaffin has introduced countless people to the sport of handcycling. He takes the new athletes under his wing and shows them the ropes.
How many people does your organization help every year? How many people volunteer for your organization every year?
Our weekly workouts in Houston are well attended with more than 20 people showing up each week to train. At present, we are helping 55 athletes with disabilities throughout the year and have 65 volunteers on our roster. This would never have happened without the support of the Moody Foundation. Achilles Houston has sponsored entry fees for more than 100 athlete registrations and we provide grants to athletes with disabilities in need of equipment, race travel costs, and specialized coaching.
How do you hope this program will grow in the next several years?
At Achilles Houston, we hope to add more diversity in terms of both race, ethnicity and disabling conditions served. We have quite a few Achilles Freedom Team members (wounded, ill and injured veterans) and we would like to have more veterans join us. We will create a Hope & Possibility race – the signature race of Achilles International – in which Achilles invites everyone – all levels of ability and disability – to participate and celebrate the triumph of the human spirit! With the growth supported by the Moody Foundation, we have Team Achilles Kids starting up and recruitment efforts for that initiative are underway.
How do you sign up to become a member or a volunteer?
We have workouts scheduled every Saturday and often have social events. If you are interested in joining Achilles International Houston as either an athlete or volunteer, visit our website at https://www.achilleshouston.org/.