A.J. Drexel Autism Institute Partnering With Eagles for Inaugural Autism Challenge

the logo for the Eagles Autism Challenge

For the Philadelphia Eagles’ inaugural Eagles Autism Challenge bike ride and 5K run/walk, Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute was named as one of the three beneficiary partners.

The Institute, along with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, will receive donations toward their autism research that will be generated by the fundraising spurred by the cycling, running and walking event that will take place on Saturday, May 19, 2018.

These research institutions will form a coalition of the top researchers and scientists in the field to accelerate the pace of discovery and allow the latest research and treatment to reach one of the largest communities of children and adults with autism in the country thanks to the extensive patient networks of each institution.

“Philadelphia is home to a number of nationally recognized groups of autism researchers and, fortunately, the work we all do is quite complementary,” said Craig Newschaffer, PhD, founding director of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute and professor in Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health. “The Eagles Autism Challenge has the potential to create infrastructure that can be shared across these teams or create projects that are either of a size, or that address a range of research questions, that no group could achieve on their own.”

Launched in 2012, the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute is the first entity of its kind to take a public health approach to autism. It has dedicated research toward a wide range of vital subjects covering the causes and challenges of autism for the whole lifespan, from before birth to adulthood.

“The team here brings unique expertise in prevention-oriented, community-focused research, whether it is searching for preventable causes of adverse brain development, testing scalable approaches to detect the signs of autism early and intervene effectively, or studying systems and social factors that maximize quality of life for individuals with autism over the life course,” Newschaffer said.

Donations from the 5k and bike rides will only further advance those efforts. 

“Finding ways for people on the autism spectrum to pursue fulfilling lives is vitally important work to this community, and I’m deeply grateful that the Eagles Autism Challenge will help us continue our efforts,” said Drexel University President John Fry.

A boy in an Eagles jersey running through tackling dummies.

The Eagles have long been involved in autism-related causes, even holding an annual “Huddle Up for Autism” day during the spring at Lincoln Financial Field. Over the past two years, the team’s “Taking Flight for Autism” fundraiser, an intimate dining experience on the field with Eagles players, coaches and executives, has raised $1.6 million for autism research. The Eagles Autism Challenge is another step the team is taking toward helping the community on the spectrum.

“It is very difficult for a single institution to address the complex medical and scientific issues presented by the condition of autism,” said Chairman and CEO of the Philadelphia Eagles Jeffrey Lurie. “So the partnership was organized to bring fresh ways of thinking and the necessary resources to the field.

"I have such great respect and admiration for the amazing work that Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Drexel and Thomas Jefferson are conducting today,” added Lurie.

Announced at Lincoln Financial Field today, the Eagles Autism Challenge will combine a 5K run/walk with three different bike rides: a 15-miler, 30-miler and 50-miler. All of the routes will begin and end at Lincoln Financial Field, with Eagles players, coaches, alumni, executives, cheerleaders and SWOOP on-hand to celebrate.

Those who sign up for the bike ride or 5K run/walk will pay a registration fee and there will be fundraising minimums for each route, with the money going toward the combined research coalition.

Registration is open now and can be completed at EaglesAutismChallenge.org. All registrants will receive free food and beverage both on event day and at a Kickoff Party the night before on Friday, May 18. They’ll also get a cycling jersey or 5K run/walk t-shirt and honorary medal, among other items.

The Eagles Autism Challenge will become a regular event, encouraging the participation of the entire community to help advance autism research and programs together. And in light of that, Newschaffer and his colleagues at the other partner institutions will be meeting to discuss their plans for what they will do when the donations come in. 

“Everyone hears a lot about autism these days and the impression might be that autism research is well-resourced. But as the most common serious neurodevelopmental challenge faced by U.S. children, the federal research investment in autism is still inadequate and the private research funding that was gaining momentum has still not recovered from the recession,” Newschaffer explained. “So having the Eagles out front supporting autism research is critically important.”

Watch the video below for more information on autism and the Eagles Autism Challenge.

Screenshot of the Eagles Autism Challenge video with embedded link to video