"Rain, sleet, or snow, if they don't cancel it, Eagles fans are going to show."
Brandon Graham, the longest-tenured Eagle, is right. Rain in South Philadelphia didn't dampen the spirits of the over 4,500 riders, runners, and walkers, as well as the thousands upon thousands of donors who helped make the sixth annual Eagles Autism Challenge presented by Lincoln Financial Group an astounding success!
On May 20th, the Eagles community came together to shift the conversation surrounding autism from awareness to action. Participants enjoyed an inspiring day of fundraising, physical activity, togetherness, and hope.
Eagles Autism Challenge was born out of Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie's vision in 2018 – autism's growing prevalence encouraged him to use his platform to inspire change. Since the inaugural event, Eagles Autism Foundation has raised more than $22 million for care and research – a record-breaking $6.2 million (and counting!) came from this year alone and donations through the end of May will increase those totals.
"We created this as our philanthropic priority off the field and with Jeffrey's vision and support, we don't have an identity crisis," said Executive Director of the Eagles Autism Foundation Ryan Hammond.
"We know what we're doing. We're taking this responsibility for the now 1 in 36 people affected by autism. This is a meaningful connection to our team on every level – we have more than 25,000 donors this season."
The event, which features the Wawa Classic 30-Mile and Wawa Shorti 10-mile bike rides, the FreedomPay 5k run and Sensory Walk, is named intentionally.
The Eagles are challenging you to fundraise, challenging you to participate in physical activity, challenging the community to join this mission, and – most importantly – challenging you to think differently about autism.
Since the inaugural EAC in 2018, the annual event has become a pillar of the Philadelphia Eagles' identity.
This year's event holds unrivaled significance, as it has brought forth record-shattering support. 2023 was an incredibly successful year for the team on the field, and it reflected directly in Eagles Autism Foundation's fundraising numbers.
"Here is an example of how much impact we have: From the day we clinched a spot in the 2022 playoffs to the day we played in the Super Bowl, we raised $1 million," Hammond said. "Our fans feel connected and part of the team and, together, we're making this shift from 'awareness,' to 'action.' This is a vehicle to have a meaningful connection to our team and fans have really responded to this."
Eagles Autism Foundation has reached this pinnacle because of those who graciously dedicate their time and resources.
"Your participation is changing the future of autism. We are raising funds for innovative autism research and care programs so that every individual and family has the resources they need. With greater public awareness and advocacy, we can get there," Lurie said on Saturday.
"It is inspiring to see how the Eagles Autism Foundation has rallied our global fan base around a common purpose and created meaningful connections. Some of us here today have a family member with autism. Some have autism or know someone who does. Some of you are Eagles fans and many of you just want to support our cause. We welcome you all into this incredible Eagles Autism Family.
"No matter who you are or where you come from, today is a day for our community to come together with our players with our coaches as an Eagles Autism Family. We're all crossing the same finish line at Lincoln Financial Field."
It's a team effort, shouldered by the faithful fans who sign up each year, the players who express their commitment to the Eagles' greater mission by attending on the day of the event, the staff's relentless planning and smooth execution, the terrific partners that believe in the vision like Lincoln Financial Group, Wawa, Aramark, FreedomPay, The Green Family Foundation, the gracious beneficiaries who carry out transformational work in the field of autism, and, of course, the donors whose dollars make a difference.
"I've learned so much over the years and to see the turnout, it's like a recharge because there's a bunch of love out here," Graham said. "It just lets you know that you're not alone, so keep going."
"None of this would be possible without each and every one of you – our participants, our partners, and sponsors. Thanks to our coaches, players, and our entire staff – you make this day special for everyone," Lurie said.
Championed by Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles Autism Challenge sets out to fund innovative research, drive scientific breakthroughs, and provide critical resources to create a major shift from awareness to action. One hundred percent of participant-raised funds from the team's signature charity event are invested into the autism research and care community, with more than $22 million raised in its six years.