The Eagles Autism Foundation has announced that the 2020 Eagles Autism Challenge presented by Lincoln Financial Group raised more than $3 million for autism research and care, thanks to donors from 14 countries, nearly 3,000 virtual participants and 284 fundraising teams. One hundred percent of the participant-raised funds will be directed to groundbreaking autism research and programs.
Originally scheduled for Saturday, May 16, 2020, the Eagles Autism Challenge presented by Lincoln Financial Group was postponed to Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020 due to the ongoing health crisis. The event – made famous by its signature Wawa Junior 10-Mile Ride, Wawa Shorti 30-Mile Ride, Wawa Classic 50-Mile Ride, Five Below 5K Run/Walk and Five Below Sensory Walk – was moved to an all-virtual format where participants were encouraged to complete their selected course from home and share photos on social media using #EaglesAutismChallenge.
"I am so deeply thankful and inspired by everyone who joined us virtually and supported our efforts from home this weekend," said Jeffrey Lurie, Philadelphia Eagles Chairman and CEO. "As we clearly saw on Friday, Saturday and throughout these past few months, nothing is going to stop us from funding the most innovative autism research and programs around the world. When we work together, the possibilities are endless. Raising more than $3 million, and nearly $10 million over the first three years of the Eagles Autism Challenge, is an incredible accomplishment and a direct result of everyone's generosity, participation and enthusiasm."
The weekend commenced with a virtual kickoff party on Friday night featuring some very special guests, including Pro Football Hall of Famer and Eagles Legend Brian Dawkins, to celebrate in the pre-event festivities with participants. On Saturday, a post-ride celebration was held virtually to recognize everyone's accomplishments and highlight top fundraisers.
On Monday, Sept. 28, NBC10 Philadelphia will air a 30-minute special at 7:30 pm recapping the 2020 Eagles Autism Challenge, the weekend's celebratory festivities and remarks from Philadelphia Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie.
"Even though we couldn't celebrate in person this year, our all-virtual format brought us together in other unique ways that enabled us to recognize everyone's accomplishments as a community," said Ryan Hammond, Executive Director of the Eagles Autism Foundation. "On behalf of Jeffrey Lurie and the Eagles Autism Foundation, I would like to thank our participants and donors, Lincoln Financial Group and our family of sponsors, our players, coaches and staff, and leading experts in the field for continually supporting our transformational work and dedication to funding the very best autism research and care."
The team's signature fundraising event, which started with Lurie's vision to bring people together to support the autism community, has raised more than $9 million for cutting-edge autism research and programs since 2018. The Eagles Autism Challenge sets out to fund innovative research, drive scientific breakthroughs and provide critical resources, all in an effort to create a major shift from awareness to action.
The Eagles Autism Foundation is inviting researchers to apply for grant funding to support basic and clinical autism research, studies concentrating on affected individuals and families, and diverse model systems. The 2020 Request for Application process will fund two-year Pilot Grants that demonstrate substantial published or preliminary data signifying that a strong scientific premise supports the study under review. Researchers interested in applying for a Pilot Grant are encouraged to submit a Letter of Intent to the Eagles Autism Foundation by Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. Once all research proposals have been fully vetted and approved by an independent scientific advisory board, a funding pool of more than $3 million – raised by the 2020 Eagles Autism Challenge – will be distributed and allocated to the principal investigators.
Through fundraising efforts associated with the Eagles Autism Foundation, a total of 25 research projects and community grants have been funded for exploratory work in the field of autism since 2018.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 54 people living in the United States are on the autism spectrum. Autism is a complex neurological and developmental condition that expresses itself differently in each individual. The spectrum can range from having challenges in the areas of social skills and nonverbal communication to repetitive interests and behaviors. While it has become one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the country, it has historically been underfunded, misunderstood and under-researched.