The winners of the 2014 Georgia Disability Sport Awards
were announced on Sunday, November 9 in a ceremony held at ballroom of the Atlanta History Center before more than two hundred guests.
Prior to the presentations, Aimee Copeland spoke on the challenges she faced as a 26 year old woman who just two years ago lost both her hands, one leg below the hip and the other below the knee from being infected with a degenerative bacteria after a zip line accident. Already in progress for one Master’s Degree in humanistic psychology at the time, she is now working towards her second in social work at Valdosta State.
Closing the ceremony, Atlanta advertising icon Joey Reiman was presented with the first Triumph of the Human Spirit Award, presented in tribute to the late Jon McCullough, a two-time Paralympian who was executive director of BlazeSports America
prior to his passing this summer. Reiman created the powerful “What’s Your Excuse?” campaign which launched the Paralympics and its competitors to an American audience with no prior awareness of the games and a predominant misunderstanding of disability.
“These are the heroes and they can teach us how to make our dreams come true,” said Reiman. “Out of that came the platform for “What’s Your Excuse?”.” That message was so powerful, he added, that it inspired him to change his entire business model, closing down his ad agency and reemerging as the purpose-driven “Idea” consultancy Brighthouse.
“These people are not disabled,” said Reiman; “They are super-abled.”
The 2014 Georgia Disability Sport Award winners:
Junior Male Athlete of the Year – JaQue Billingsley
In the 2013-2014 season, JaQue Billingsley won 3 state championships with the Houston County Sharks handball, football and basketball teams, set a new record in powerlifting at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) World Junior Games and was named the 2014 Paralympic High School Field Athlete of the Year. A below knee amputee, he also played defensive line for his high school football team and is now playing in college.
Junior Female Athlete of the Year – Harper Scott
Swimming for the Nautical Milers, Harper Scott won 4 medals, including 2 gold, at the Guayaquil Para-Swimming Open in Ecuador with her S14 4×100 freestyle and medley relay teams who are also ranked #1 in the world by the IPC. Scott holds 5 US Paralympic American records in the women’s S14 II class.
Adult Male Athlete of the Year – Curtis Lovejoy
A five-time Paralympian and world champion in two sports, Curtis Lovejoy competes for the Shepherd Swords and Team USA in fencing and swimming. In April, Lovejoy broke his own 13 year old world record in the men’s SB1 100-meter breaststroke at the International German Championships, improving his world record time by an incredible 6 seconds. He also won 3 gold medals at the CanAms in the 200m freestyle, 50m backstroke and 100m backstroke.
Adult Female Athlete of the Year – Amanda Dennis
Playing goal ball, a sport for the visually impaired, since she was 9 years old, Amanda Dennis began attending USA women’s training camps at age 15 and two years later was competing internationally as part of Team USA which included a spot at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Now 20, she helped bring home the gold for the US women’s team at the 2014 IBSA Goalball World Championships.
Military Athlete of the Year – Jacques Swafford
A United States Army veteran and a multisport athlete for BlazeSports, Jacques Swafford won silver medals in shot put and discus at the U.S. Paralympic Track & Field Championships. He also surpassed the VA competition standards at the National Veteran Wheelchair Games.
Junior Team of the Year – Atlanta Junior Wheelchair Hawks Prep Team
The Atlanta Junior Wheelchair Hawks prep team won their third consecutive National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) junior division national title at the 2014 NWBA Championship Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky. Seeded second going into the tournament, the Junior Wheelchair Hawks allowed only one loss during the tournament and finished with an 18-1 record for the season.
High School Team of the Year – Houston County Sharks
Competing under the auspices of the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) and American Association of Adapted Sports Programs (AAASP), the Houston County Sharks program includes athletes from all Houston County high schools. They have remained undefeated, repeating as Georgia State Champions in wheelchair basketball, handball, and football for the second year in a row.
Adult Team of the Year – Nautical Milers
The athletes of the Nautical Milers are also members of the US Paralympic team, GA Master swimmers, open water swimmers, Athlete without Limits and Special Olympics of GA. In 2014, the team set 6 Georgia Masters Relay State Records, 13 S14 U.S. Paralympic American Records and won 9 medals at the Guayaquil Para-Swimming Open in Ecuador. They currently hold the IPC World #1 ranking for the S14 Women 4×100 Medley relay and the S14 Women 4×100 Free relay and the #3 ranking for the S14 Men 4×100 Medley relay and S14 Men 4×100 Free relay.
Volunteer of the Year – Julia Herring; Abby Lefkove
The daughter of 2013 Coach of the Year recipient Fred Lamback, Julia Herring volunteers with the Georgia Blazers swim team all year round travelling three hours to and from practice twice a month. She works with each swimmer’s ability and figures out the technique to maximize their performance mostly working with the newer and younger swimmers.
A mainstay of the volunteering team for Catalyst Sports, Abby Lefkove has given countless hours of her time towards helping children and adults with a variety of physical disabilities learn to climb. Her caring but confident approach allows new climbers to feel safe under her supervision.
Coach of the Year – Hal Simpson
The head coach of the Atlanta Force’s men’s goal ball team, Hal Simpson is also the founder and executive director of the Georgia Blind Sport Association whose mission with the GBSA is to create more sport opportunities for individuals who are visually impaired across the state of Georgia. In 2014, he led the Atlanta Force to a successful season and silver medal at the USABA Goal ball National Championships. He was instrumental in bringing the USABA Goalball National Championships to Georgia in 2015.
Phoenix Award – Coan Park Recreation Center
The Coan Park Recreation Center is a part of the city of Atlanta’s Department of Parks and Recreation. They provide therapeutic recreation programs and adaptive sports opportunities for those who have difficulty accessing and participating in recreation opportunities offered to the general public in Atlanta.
Triumph of the Human Spirit – Joey Reiman
The CEO and Founder of the global “idea” consultancy Brighthouse, Joey Reiman was the creator of the iconic 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games’ “What’s Your Excuse? Campaign which challenged the previously widespread misconceptions of what disability meant in terms of human capability and achievement. That campaign and its impact on the success of the Atlanta Paralympic Games helped break the barriers of the mind and build a foundation for the current success and growth of the Paralympic movement in the United States and around the world.