The Philadelphia Eagles have announced that the second annual Eagles Autism Challenge raised more than $3.5 million for autism research and care, thanks to 25,301 donors and the 3,645 participants who came out to bike, run, and walk on Saturday, May 18 at Lincoln Financial Field. One hundred percent of the participant-raised funds will be directed to the groundbreaking research being conducted at three leading Philadelphia institutions: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Drexel University, and Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health.
"I am overcome with a feeling of gratitude for the support we have received in the first two years of the Eagles Autism Challenge," said Jeffrey Lurie, Chairman and CEO of the Philadelphia Eagles. "Over the past 24 months, our collective efforts have raised more than six million dollars in new money for autism research and care for our city. This is an amazing accomplishment, and a testament to the generosity of those who have so graciously showcased the power of what can be achieved when we work together."
The Eagles Autism Challenge presented by Lincoln Financial Group offered participants the option to choose from three unique bike routes (Wawa Junior 15-Mile Ride, Wawa Shorti 30-Mile Ride, Wawa Classic 50-Mile Ride), in addition to the family-friendly Five Below 5K Run/Walk and Five Below Sensory Walk. All five routes began at the cross section of 1 Lincoln Financial Field Way and Pattison Avenue and took participants on a scenic journey that navigated them through the City of Philadelphia and its suburbs. Participants returned to Lincoln Financial Field and crossed the finish line at the 50-yard line where an on-field celebration and awards ceremony awaited. Supporters who wanted to fundraise but were unable to ride, run, or walk on event day had the option to register as a virtual participant.
"On behalf of the Philadelphia Eagles, I humbly thank our participants, the thousands of donors around the world, our family of sponsors, Lincoln Financial Group and the founding beneficiaries. This life-changing work could not have been done without them. I am encouraged by the progress we have made thus far and believe that we are headed in the right direction. My hope is that our efforts here will inspire additional support and participation for years to come as we continue on our journey to advance autism research," added Lurie.
The event received full support from the entire Eagles organization, which included current players and team legends, coaches, ownership, front office executives, cheerleaders and SWOOP. More than 30 Eagles players signed up as bikers, 11 participated in the 5K and the rest cheered on participants at the 50-yard finish line. Additionally, every Eagles coach and nearly 30 Eagles Legends participated as either a biker, runner or walker.
"We would like to congratulate the Philadelphia Eagles organization for another successful year in raising funds and awareness for autism research," said Madeline Bell, President and CEO of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "We are honored to be part of this event and to support cutting-edge breakthroughs for families affected by autism not only here in Philadelphia, but also around the world."
"I'm so grateful to the Eagles for the momentum built behind the Eagles Autism Challenge, and for the continued support of this annual event by so many members of the Drexel community," said John Fry, President of Drexel University. "I know that the strides made in the Challenge's second year will equip researchers at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute to forge ahead with research that is making a difference for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families."
"What a win! I'm impressed by how many of us joined, and it will indeed take all of us to create a better world for neurodiversity," said Stephen K. Klasko, MD, MBA, President of Thomas Jefferson University and CEO of Jefferson Health. "We couldn't be more inspired by Jeffrey Lurie's ability to rally Greater Philadelphia around this critical need as Jefferson continues to provide research, community engagement, and clinical care for people with autism and other neurodiversities."
A total of seven matching gifts were offered to Eagles Autism Challenge participants this year, contributing a grand total of $785,000 to the $3.5 million raised. The matching gifts were aimed at helping participants meet and exceed their fundraising goals, while enabling lead donors to double their impact. Most notably, the $100,000 Middleton Matching Gift Challenge, generously provided by Philadelphia Phillies Managing Partner John Middleton and wife Leigh, helped to raise $200,000 for the team's efforts in less than two days.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 59 people under the age of 21 living in the United States are on the autism spectrum, a significant increase from two years ago when the ratio stood at one in 68. Autism has become one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the country, yet it has historically been underfunded, misunderstood and under-researched. The Eagles Autism Challenge is partnering with thought leaders to advance scientific discoveries all with the goal of having a transformational impact around the world.
Championed by Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles Autism Challenge sets out to drive scientific breakthroughs and establish Philadelphia as a major center for autism research and care. The annual fundraising event invites Eagles fans and autism supporters from around the world to join the team in turning autism awareness into action.
The date of the third annual Eagles Autism Challenge will be announced at a later time.
Take a look at the best photos from this year's Eagles Autism Challenge!