Deadline for the 2013 Giant Steps Award nominations is extended to Friday, March 1, 2013
Celebrating 26 Years of Honoring Student-Athletes
April 6, 2013 will mark the 26th annual celebration of National STUDENT-Athlete Day and the announcement of the 2013 National STUDENT-Athlete Day Giant Steps Award winners. National STUDENT-Athlete Day, created by the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS), is designed to honor the hard work and dedication of high school and college student-athletes nationwide who have excelled in the classroom and on the playing field, while making significant contributions to their schools and communities. Since 1997, over 3.4 million student-athletes have been honored with award certificates for their outstanding achievements.
As part of the National STUDENT-Athlete Day celebration, nominations made from all over the country are accepted for the annual Giant Steps Awards. The awards are not limited to student-athletes. Giant Steps awards are awarded to professional athletes, athletics administrators, civic leaders, coaches, parents, organizations and other individuals who exemplify the ideals of National STUDENT-Athlete Day and using sport as a vehicle for positive social change.
Dr. Richard Lapchick, Founder and President of the NCAS, said, “With 2013 being the 26th celebration of National STUDENT-Athlete Day, we are proud to have honored over 3.4 million college and high school student-athletes nationwide who epitomize what being a student-athlete means ̶ a well-rounded individual who uses their success on the playing field and in the classroom to bring people together, make a difference in the community and becomes a successful member of society. This day is a tribute to all things great about athletes and sport.”
The 2012 Giant Steps Award winners were honored on Thursday, October 18 at the NCAS Annual Banquet and Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Orlando, FL and included:
Paula Heron was born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa. About 11 years ago, she came to the United States to pursue a career in scientific research and graduated with a PhD in Physiology. In 2005, she watched a movie called Human Trafficking about a young woman forced into sexual slavery as she tried to leave her home country in search of a better life in the United States. While Paula’s transition to America was smooth and successful, the experiences of those who have been trafficked into the country resonated with her. She decided to do something about it.
Heron is now a Physiology postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kentucky and is the founder and executive director for Tri 4 Freedom, Inc., an organization that uses triathlons to raise awareness about the global extent of human exploitation and empowering survivors of human trafficking and marginalized communities.
In June, 2011, Tri4Freedom hosted Free2Tri, a 27 hour effort that comprised a 3.2-mile swim, 163-mile bike ride, and 45-mile run. As the sole participant, Paula raised over $1300 for the Not For Sale Campaign’s Free2Play initiative, which provides support to victims of human trafficking through physical activity. This year’s 27 hour triathlon has been expanded to include a number of triathletes and will also feature a fair trade expo, where local vendors will display and sell fair trade goods including items such as clothing and jewelry made by survivors of human trafficking. The event is set to take place June 9th.
When asked about her compulsion to help, Paula responded, “What I find most disturbing about human trafficking is how easily a person can be exploited….yet it is an industry that remains hidden from the public eye. It is sick and I think one step closer to resolving the issue is to educate the public and uproot this dark underground travesty.”
To find out more, visit www.tri4freedom.org
Heroes Among Us
Conner and Cayden Long
Conner Long is an eight-year old boy who is wise beyond his years. He is one half of a triathlon team. The full team includes his younger brother Cayden (6), who happens to have cerebral palsy. Conner wanted to spend more time with Cayden, but his being in his wheelchair, it made it hard for the two of them to bond. As with so many other stories, it is sport that brought these brothers closer than ever.
Even though Cayden is unable to walk or participate in sports on his own, Conner refuses to let him sit on the sideline. In the spring of 2011, Conner saw an ad for a children’s triathlon and jumped at the opportunity to participate with Cayden. The boys competed in the 4 lap swim with a raft, a 3 mile bike ride with a trailer, and a half mile run with a stroller. The brothers finished the race in 43:10. Their mother, Jenny Long, said it was the first time they had finished something together as brothers.
That race was the beginning of Team Long Brothers. They began training, upgraded their equipment and two weeks later, they were at their next race. When the ultimate race came along, an Ironkids Triathlon, it was uncertain that Conner and Cayden would be able to participate as a team among the 1,400 individual competitors. When confronted with the notion of racing solo, Conner replied that he’d rather sit at home than go without Cayden. The brothers were cleared for the race and went on to compete. They finished last, but they finished together.
Tom Walter, Wake Forest University
Through hard work, dedication and strong leadership, Tom Walter, Head Baseball Coach at Wake Forest University, has always had successful baseball teams wherever he’s coached; but it’s what he stands for as a head coach and as an individual that makes him truly successful. He holds his players accountable for everything on and off the field, expects them to graduate and live up to their potential in all aspects of their lives. Before joining the staff at Wake Forest, Coach Walter was at the University of New Orleans. While there, all but one of his student-athletes who stayed all four years graduated. He expects and provides an opportunity for his players to succeed and be part of a family who makes sacrifices for each other. He’s more than just a coach.
In February 2011, he took his belief of promoting family and sacrifice for one another to a new level when he donated a kidney to a young player, Kevin Jordan. Just two months after committing to play at Wake forest, Jordan became sick with a rare disease affecting his kidneys. He endured dialysis three times per week, but when August came around, he was on campus ready to start the semester. That’s when his doctors determined that his kidneys were only functioning at 8%.
Without any suitable donors in his family, and no other prospects, there would be no kidney for Kevin; however, Coach Walter stepped up to get tested and was found to be a strong match. Without hesitation, Coach Walter made the decision to donate his kidney, giving Kevin an opportunity for a new life. Coach Walter doesn’t look at himself as a hero or someone courageous, he looks at Kevin showing up on campus as a more courageous act.
Swoop’s Stoop: Cody Reichard, Miami University of Ohio
In 2010, Cody Reichard, a member of the Miami University (Ohio) men’s hockey team, founded Swoop’s Stoop. The mission of Swoop’s Stoop is to provide life-enriching experiences to area kids facing life-changing illnesses. The program works by bringing a sick child from Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital to a Miami University home hockey game where they and their family receive game tickets, a t-shirt, a bracelet and free food and drink, and public recognition at the game. In addition, Reichard, Swoop (Miami’s RedHawk mascot) and several Miami teammates visit Children’s Hospital at least once a month to play and interact with sick children. The senior goaltender also brings autographed posters and towels for the children.
This year, Reichard successfully secured a corporate sponsor (Step Resources) and has received generous support from Miami’s Red & White Club raising more than $16,000 to further help the Swoop’s Stoop program continue its incredible work in the community. While some of the funding has supported the purchase of blankets made for the children at the hospital, Reichard eventually hopes to offset some of the medical costs for the children’s families and build a new playroom for the hospital.
Willie O’Ree, National Hockey League
In 1958 Willie O’Ree made his debut in the National Hockey League, playing two games with the Boston Bruins. In 1961, after two more years in the minors, O’Ree returned to the Bruins for only 41 games, scoring 4 goals and 10 assists.
This may not seem significant at first glance, but O’Ree was different from every other NHL player who had come before him during the league’s first 50 years–he was the first black player in NHL history. While he endured cheap shots on the ice and racist remarks from fans, he also had to keep an important secret.
During the 1955/1956 hockey season, Willie played for the Kitchener-Waterloo Canucks, a junior league team. During a game he was struck with a puck in the right eye and was inured so severly that he permanently lost 95% of the vision in that eye. A doctor advised him to stop playing, but that was inconceivable to Willie. In eight weeks he was back on the ice, but O’Ree had to keep this injury quiet because the NHL won’t allow a player with only one eye to play.
O’Ree is currently the National Hockey League’s director of youth development, a post he has held since January 1998. As director of youth development, O’Ree has helped the “NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative,” expose more than 40,000 boys and girls of diverse backgrounds to unique hockey experiences. Over the past decade, O’Ree has traveled thousands of miles across North America helping to establish 39 local grassroots hockey programs, all geared towards serving economically disadvantaged youth. While advocating strongly that “hockey is for everyone,” O’Ree stresses the importance of essential life skills, education, and the core values of hockey: commitment, perseverance, and teamwork.
O’Ree has told NHL.com, “I feel good about being in the position I’m in, meeting people I played with and against and talking to the players in the league now. Many of them know the name Willie O’Ree. What a pleasure it’s been to meet players like Mike Grier and Anson Carter who have told me I opened a door and made it possible for them. They know they are role models for younger boys and girls playing now. These kids are now setting goals for themselves because it is possible to break that barrier. You can do what you want if you believe you can and if you think you can, you will.”
Drey Mingo, Purdue University
After playing basketball for the University of Maryland for two seasons, Drey Mingo transferred to Purdue University. After a year on the bench due to transfer rules, and only four games on the Boilermakers court, Drey was hospitalized for bacterial meningitis. Defying all the odds, Drey walked out of the hospital and back onto the court in less than a month.
Drey was key to the success of the Purdue women’s basketball team. As captain, she led in rebounding, field goal percentage and was second in scoring. She set a school season record for three-point field goal percentage and she was on top of the world. Then, during a 2011-2012 pre-season scrimmage game against Indiana State, Drey tore an ACL in her right knee and missed the entire season.
Even while dealing with her illness, playing the game and her injury, Drey has found time to give back. She is heavily involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She traveled to Haiti for eight days volunteering at Double Harvest farm complex to help with home construction painting, minor repairs and interacting with local children’s playing soccer and basketball and continues to exemplify what it means to be a courageous student-athlete.