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Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Updated: October 11, 6:51 PM ET
A.Skate wins $50,000 from Pepsi

By Keith Hamm

A.skate wins $50,000 funding from Pepsi Refresh Project.

The healing power of action sports got a big shot in the arm over the weekend as a small nonprofit group that helps autistic children through skateboarding won $50,000 in a charity contest funded by one of the biggest soft drink companies in the world.

At midnight on September 30, as text and online voting came to a close during the Pepsi Refresh Project, Crys Worley, 29, and her A.Skate Foundation finished among the top 10 finalists in the $50,000 category, the project's richest and most competitive tier.

"Oh my god, it's so surreal," Worley told ESPN over the phone Sunday morning as she and her crew were wrapping up an A.Skate clinic in Kenton, Ga. "I haven't had a chance to really absorb it. I feel so blessed and so thankful. People don't even know how much this money will help children across the country."

The Birmingham, Ala.-based nonprofit organizes and hosts free skate clinics -- and hands out grants for equipment -- for kids with autism, a developmental disorder that affects social and communication skills.

"As a parent of a child in the spectrum [of autism], for years all I wanted was for my child to acknowledge me," Worley told Vans Off the Wall TV for an online short film. "And through skateboarding, he does."

"You're not going to find doctors tell you why this is," she explains. "But with my son, he's a very highly active kid with a lot of energy, and skateboarding gives that energy an outlet before it builds up into something negative. The motion of going back and forth on ramps gets them that release of anxiety. And on a social level ... they're interacting with other kids, learning to take turns on their own terms."

Worley's 8-year-old son Sasha was diagnosed with autism when he was 22 months old. "I've been funding A.Skate out of my own pocket on a dental assistant's salary for three years," said Worley, who was born with a heart condition and survived conjunctive heart failure at the age of 23. "This [Pepsi grant] will help keep up with the demand."

After a three-week audit of all the finalists -- during which Pepsi will be double-checking for fraud and proxy voting -- Worley says she's confident A.Skate will receive the first of two $25,000 checks. The second payment, she added, comes after a budgetary review at six months.

The funding is slated to help expand the foundation's reach, cover travel and clinic permitting costs, and hand out more equipment.

Heading into the final days of voting, Worley says that many skate shops and companies joined the cause, posting up homepage links to the Refresh Project site.

"Skateboarding is a very tight-knit group," says Jim Thiebaud, VP of Deluxe Distribution, which backed A.Skate's campaign on its website. "When somebody is trying to help out people who need help, you see the skateboarding community jump in, no questions asked. And that's what you saw with this."

Along those lines, Bones Wheels recently released its A.Skate benefit wheel.

In other skate news from the Pepsi Refresh Project, the Villa Park Community Foundation of Illinois was also a September finalist, in the $10,000 tier. The foundation plans to use the money to purchase building materials for a community skatepark in the Chicago suburb.