If you throw chocolate milk martinis, real housewives and world-renowned athletes into the Waldorf Astoria’s Grand Ballroom, what do you get? Besides having quite a story to tell friends, you would find yourself amidst the sixth annual, “Heroes, Heart and Hope” Gala, sponsored by the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Wednesday night’s festivities brought together amputee athletes of all ages to raise money for prosthetic running legs and other special equipment.
Sarah Reinertsen, the first female leg amputee to complete an Ironman, said her prosthetic running leg cost $36,000 and was not covered by insurance. One of the most popular guests of the evening, Ms. Reinertsen unveiled her new “Got Chocolate Milk?” ad at the fundraiser. “I’ve actually been drinking chocolate milk for years,” she said. “A triathlete boyfriend of mine—well, ex-boyfriend—used chocolate milk in his recovery.”
Down the Silver Corridor, The Observer met up with Aviva Drescher, a Real Housewife of NYC and a below-the-knee amputee, as she spoke with a young woman about her self-esteem issues growing up. “I try very hard not to worry about the eyes gazing on my leg and on me or on anything,” Ms. Drescher said. She applauded her young admirer for wearing a short dress, saying that as a young girl, she often felt uncomfortable exposing her leg.
Now, working with C.A.F., Ms. Drescher enjoys, “helping women getting adjusted to being new amputees,” she said. “Own it and be proud because differences are what make you special.”
Despite being much more comfortable with her disability, she said she has encountered some difficulties when filming for the The Real Housewives of New York City.
“There has been some insensitivity by some of my cast mates surrounding issues that are related to my limb loss,” she said. (Did you hear that? There’s drama in Manhattan.)
Many recipients of the foundation’s generosity, including U.S. Army Major Daniel Gade, Scout Bassett and Jim Cuevas, also appeared to feast on delicious specialties from the Waldorf’s famous kitchen and to talk with aspiring athletes. Major Gade lost his leg while serving in Iraq and said the C.A.F helped him get back to being “somebody with a physical goal and a physical passion.”
Despite his difficulties, he has remained positive about his disability. “I think everybody has disabilities of some kind. The difference between being somebody with a different kind of disability is I can see my baggage,” he said. “I know what my baggage is. But other people can’t see theirs. So in that sense, it’s kind of a blessing.”
Ms. Bassett received a prosthetic running leg from the foundation at the age of 14 and has since become a three-time silver medalist at the above-the-knee physically challenged division at the ITU World Triathlon Championships. “I think it’s really important to provide an opportunity for young kids to know right away what’s possible for their future and that they can be competitive in athletics,” she said.
Mr. Cuevas was recruited to join his school’s wheelchair track team while going home from school with his mother one day. “My mom, she wasn’t used to people approaching her. She thought that he was going to sell her something. So she told us, ‘Just keep walking. Don’t worry about it,’” he laughed, recalling the experience.
Bob Babbit, the founder of C.A.F, said he hoped to raise more than $1.5 million at the gala, beating last year’s amount. To raise the funds, the foundation held a silent and live auction for such items as a Harley Davidson motorcycle and entry to the Ironman World Championships.
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