Community Spotlight: Eagles Autism Challenge

From left: Jordan Hicks, Carson Wentz, Jason Kelce and Swoop are looking forward to the inaugural Eagles Autism Challenge. | Provided

The world champion Philadelphia Eagles have also become champions of autism research. With their inaugural Eagles Autism Challenge next month, the team is playing a big role in moving the conversation from awareness to action.

The family-friendly day of fun will feature a 5K that you can run or walk, in addition to cycling routes of 15, 30 or 50 miles.

“We have over 2600 participants that have registered already,” says Ryan Hammond, executive director for the Eagles Autism Challenge. “This is a call to action from a leadership perspective. It’s a way to bring people together to make autism their philanthropic priority.”

Unlike fundraising events where you pay an entry fee to take part, the Eagles Autism Challenge sets fundraising minimums for participation.

“For example, if you’re doing the 5K, you have to raise a minimum of $250, and if you’re riding a bike, you have to raise a minimum of $500,$750 or $1000, based on the distance,” she says. “That’s what’s really been unique about this. You’re pushing people out of their comfort zone to ask them to raise money and emerge as a leader in autism with us.”

The Eagles Autism Challenge has already raised $1.6 million and 100% of the money will be invested in autism research and support, across multiple organizations.

“We’re not selecting just one beneficiary, we’re focused on bringing the thought leaders in Philadelphia together,” Hammond says. “We’ll be supporting autism research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute and Thomas Jefferson Health system.”

So what can participants expect from the big, inaugural event on May 19? First of all, the whole team will be there.

“The unique thing we could bring to the table is the engagement with our entire team,” she says. “Not only will all the players be there [posing for pictures and signing autographs], all of our events end crossing the 50-yard line at the stadium. There’s also the added bonus of the Lombardi trophy.”

In addition to the athletic events, there will be food and music, as well as special accomodations for families affected by autism. Kids under 12 can also attend with a parent who’s participating at no cost.

“We wanted to be inclusive from a family standpoint,” Hammond says. “And it’s important for families who look to the Eagles as their heroes to see we’ve prioritized autism. It makes families affected by it feel like they have a place with our team.”

With the recent CDC report showing a rise in autism cases from 1 in 69 children in 2014 to 1 in 59 children in 2018, rallying behind this cause is more important than ever.

“Beyond just a donation, the visual impact of bringing people together — our team, our players, our coaches, the families touched by it and these amazing leaders in our fans — is really powerful,” Hammond says. “Our fans come out strong to support everything we do. To think that we can be world champions on the field and in the field of autism is amazing.”

You can register for the inaugural Eagles Autism Challenge through May 11, and have until May 31 to reach your fundraising goal.

The event itself takes place on Saturday, May 19.

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