David Prince is a Paralympic medalist who found a passion for sport and exercise at a young age. After a motorcycle accident at age 19, David’s right leg below the knee was amputated. After a long period of self-reflection, he immersed himself in training and fitness, and was fitted for a prosthetic leg. He turned his life around, successfully overcoming many obstacles and achieving numerous medals for his athleticism including two medals at the International Paralympic Athletics World Championships, a gold medal at the 2011 Parapan American Games, and a bronze medal in the 2012 London Paralympics. With so much success at both the domestic and international level, David hopes to compete at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. David is yet another example of overcoming adversity in life through sport and a Triumph of the Human Spirit Award Winner.
Nadia Hopkins has been a member of the BlazeSports swim team for the past few years and is one of four swimmers with a disability in the state of Georgia to be selected for the Georgia Zones Swim Team. She recently took up Paracanoe where she trains with the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club. Nadia is training hard and has her sights on joining the U.S. Paralympic team in the future. She has shown great perseverance ever since she was young. Born with spina bifida in Russia, Nadia grew up in a special needs orphanage for the first nine years of her life. At 10 years of age, she was adopted by an American family and brought home to Georgia. Since moving to Georgia, Nadia has only excelled in school, carrying a 4.0 grade point average and serving in many leadership roles including Class President, Year Book Editor and President of her school’s National Honor Society.
Phil Martin. In 1980, Phil founded Adaptive Aquatics, a non-profit watersports organization. For the past 30 years, Phil has volunteered his time at Lake Tobesofkee, near Macon, coaching and mentoring countless people with physical disabilities to experience the joys of adaptive water sports who might never have had the opportunity otherwise. All thanks to Phil. Phil is selfless, full of fun, and puts the safety and enjoyment of others above everything else. His energy and passion for adaptive water sports and the outdoors is infectious.
Cassie Mitchell. Not only did Cassie win the Gold Medal in shotput at the 2013 World Championships in Lyon, France, she did it with a Championship record performance. Cassie also went on to win a silver medal in the T52 100 meter dash and bronze medals in the 200 and 800 meter races. She is an accomplished researcher in neurological injuries at Emory University and Georgia Tech. Cassie plans to continue pursuit of her Olympic Dream by competing in the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio.
Harlon Mathews. A Therapeutic Recreation Specialist for Henry County Parks and Recreation, Harlon Matthews started out playing wheelchair basketball. When the season ended, he picked up wheelchair tennis. It soon became his passion. He became so good at tennis that he even started to beat able-bodied players and is now in the Top 10 in the USTA Wheelchair Men’s A division. Harlon serves as the Chair of the USTA Southern Wheelchair Tennis Committee. Not just a great athlete, he helped create opportunities for kids with disabilities to play wheelchair tennis, developing leagues across the state of Georgia and nation. He created the Georgia Grand Prix series and helped it grow from two tournaments to five in less than 10 years, receiving the 2012 US Tennis Association’s Georgia Wheelchair Event of the Year Award. This year the US Tennis Association recognized Harlon’s contributions to wheelchair tennis with the prestigious Brad Parks Award. A long time advocate for creating adaptive sport opportunities, a mentor and coach to many, his greatest source of joy, and a Triumph of the Human Spirit Award winner.
Jeremy Maddox. As an avid wheelchair road racer and inspirational athlete, Jeremy Maddox is a role model to all. Despite sustaining a spinal cord injury at 16, Jeremy has triumphed as an athlete, competing in an average of 20 races per year. His athletic success began during his treatment at the Shepherd Center. Six years later, he competed in his first Peachtree Road Race in the Wheelchair Division. Jeremy works full time for a company he co-founded, competes in waterskiing competitions, pilots airplanes and volunteers at Shepherd Center, all the while maintaining that “you get back from life what you put into it.”
Shepherd Center. Founded in 1975 by Alana and Harold Shepherd and inspired by their son James, the Shepherd Center grew from a six-bed unit to one of the top ten rehabilitation hospitals in the nation today. The Shepherd Center transforms the lives of individuals with a spinal cord and brain injury, helping them reach their full potential, some of whom are in the audience today. The Center is also known around the world for their neurological and neuromuscular research. But as anyone at the Shepherd Center would say, it is more than just a hospital or a research center, but a leader in disability rights and advocacy. They are the founding sponsor of the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games and the reason BlazeSports, the legacy of those Games, is here today. The Shepherd Center continues to serve as a leader in the Paralympic Movement by providing opportunities for adults with a physical disability to engage in sports and recreation.
Amy Aenchbacher is a certified Adapted Physical Education teacher in Cherokee County. Amy has been a lifelong advocate and educator of quality physical education programs for children with disabilities in Georgia. Her advocacy efforts extend beyond the Cherokee County area, presenting at professional conferences across the US on the importance of adaptive physical education and inclusion. She has served as the local coordinator for Cherokee County Special Olympics for over a decade and has served two terms as the Adapted Physical Education Chair for Georgia Association for Health, Recreation and Dance. Amy is a true leader and advocate in Adaptive Physical Education and Sport field.
John Pulliam. According to his team mates at the Atlanta Tri Club, John Pulliam exemplifies what the Club is all about…racing hard, having fun and representing your team. In January 2013, John’s life was changed forever. While out riding his motorcycle near Carrollton a truck turned in front of him striking him and his motorcycle, resulting in having his right leg amputated. Since his accident, rather than giving up on leading an active lifestyle, John seized every opportunity available to him and applied himself with a steely determination. Together with his wife, a prosthetic leg and racing wheelchair, John began competing in 5K road races. In June 2015, John completed his first triathlon and in July he crossed the finish line of the Atlanta AJC Peachtree Road Race on his prosthetic running leg. He doesn’t see obstacles, he sees challenges and overcomes them, one step, push, or pedal at a time!
Todd Love. In 2010, Corporal Todd Love, a third generation Marine, lost his legs and one arm when he stepped on an IED while on foot patrol in Afghanistan. Since returning home, Todd has refused to let his injuries hold him back from the activities he loves…extreme obstacle courses, white-water kayaking, skydiving and surfing, wrestling an alligator and playing Bach on the piano. He is a motivational speaker and inspires others by sharing his story and letting people know that although he misses his legs he says that “I have other things that I have gained from this – the power to influence people.”
Errol ‘Big D’ McKnight, a disabled Air Force veteran, was leading a sedentary lifestyle until he was recently introduced to the adaptive sport of archery. He found an instant passion for a sport that he naturally excelled in. This was a big turning point for Errol and was the positive outlet he was searching for. With fierce determination and perseverance, Errol has improved his skills in a short period of time receiving a gold medal for archery in the 2015 Endeavor Games. Big D has shown tremendous leadership to his fellow veteran team mates and is always willing to give a helping hand. He enjoys sharing his knowledge of the sport and getting other athletes excited about archery as well.
The BlazeSports Atlanta Junior Hawks. The BlazeSports Wheelchair Basketball Program has made amazing strides over the last few years. Thirty-two athletes will be taking the court to represent BlazeSports this season – the largest in the history of the team. The BlazeSports Prep team is currently 4 time defending National Champions. The Varsity team achieved its highest National ranking last season finishing in 6th place. In addition to outstanding game statistics, these athletes are also achieving tremendous accomplishments off the court including All-Academic and Presidential Awards from the NWBA Championships, Positive Athlete Awards, and a Program Award for Outstanding Achievement and Dedication to the sport of wheelchair basketball from the NWBA. The BlazeSports program strives for excellence both on and off the court and is supported by incredible coaches who push these athletes to not only be great players, but well-rounded student leaders as well.
Al Mead lost his left leg at age 9 but never lost his winning spirit. A world-class track athlete and Paralympian, he has broken numerous world records in the 100, 200 and 400 meter races during Paralympic trials. Competing in the long jump, he won a gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Paralympic Games, then took silver in the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics. Al Mead was the first Paralympian to ever be inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Earlier this year, Al was inducted into the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame. He is one of only a few Americans who have carried both the Olympic and Paralympic torches and was an integral part of bringing the 1996 Paralympics to Atlanta. He served as Vice-Chairman of the Atlanta Paralympic Organizing Committee. Off the field Al is an inspirational speaker and role model for many young people and adults teaching them that “when you have a setback, it’s a setup for a comeback”. Al is a disability advocate, community leader and serves as Associate Pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in the Fayetteville community.
McClain Hermes started swimming when she was 4 and joined her first swim team by 8. Soon after joining a year round swim league in 2008, McClain developed severe vision impairments and she is now legally blind. McClain has been incredible in her unwavering determination and she has not allowed her diagnosis to stop her from achieving her goals in swimming or life. McClain, now 14, has since become a classified Paralympic swimmer and continues to train as part of the BlazeSports Swim Program with new ambitions every day. This past summer she broke multiple records including the Class S12 world record in the 1500M Free and took home a bronze medial in 2015 Parapan Am Games in Toronto. She is looking to represent the United States at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. Her “you can do anything you set your mind to attitude” doesn’t stop in the pool. McClain has been recognized by CNN for ‘The Impact Your World Section’ for her ‘Shoes for the Souls’ program, which she and her father founded in 2009. Shoes for the Souls donate shoes to the Atlanta Mission and they have collected around 10,000 pairs of shoes since they began the program.
American Association of Adapted Sports Programs. Since the early ‘80s, the American Association of Adapted Sports, has changed the environment and landscape for students with disabilities in Georgia by providing a range of adaptive sports in schools. Under the guidance and leadership of AAASP, school districts have changed their views of providing athletics for students with physical disabilities by realizing that “inclusion” must extend to sport offerings. This mindset has created great opportunities for students to experience the benefits of sport. AAASP has received numerous awards and accolades for their advocacy work and are recognized by the Georgia High School Association as Georgia’s official sanctioning and governing body for interscholastic adapted athletics. For their pioneering work and tireless advocacy for students with disabilities, AAASP is a Triumph of the Human Spirit Award winner.
Bill Furbish. After a devastating accident just after completing college, Bill Furbish sustained a complete spinal cord injury. During his recovery, Bill explored recreation therapy and once he was introduced to adaptive water skiing, his athletic career began. He won gold and bronze medals in track and field in the 1988 Paralympic Games in Seoul. He helped start and still participates on Shepherd Center’s wheelchair rugby team. And he holds world records in two of the three adaptive water skiing events — slalom and jumping. Bill has been involved in the community of adaptive sports for many years pioneering Shepherd Center’s information technology department and serving as the director of information services when the Paralympic Games came to Atlanta in 1996. He gives back to his community by mentoring and coaching younger athletes.
Amanda Dennis is a Paralympic Goalball player with an impressive attitude to life and sport. Born with a visual impairment, she began playing goalball at the age of seven. At 15, she came home with a bronze medal at her first Youth Nationals Goalball Championships and 3 years later a silver medal. She qualified for her first Parapan American Games in 2011 and competed in the 2012 London Paralympic Games. The team for 2016 Rio Paralympics will not be announced until next year, but it looks like Amanda is on her way with all of her hard work. Amanda graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in sport management. She says that Goalball has made her who she is today, learning the value of hard work, determination, perseverance and most importantly leadership. “Being blind or visually impaired is a disability, but playing a sport helps demonstrate that your disability isn’t a disability at all, “ Amanda says.
Fred Lamback is a highly respected in the swimming community and has reserved myriad honors as a committed and inspirational coach. He has made countless contributions to the U.S. Paralympic Military Program, the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) – including serving on the staff at the 2004 Paralympic Games. He is Head Swim Coach and swimming coordinator for the BlazeSports swim program. Fred began coaching to support his son Lantz, who has cerebral palsy. Since immersing himself in adaptive swimming as a supportive father, Fred has developed and proven himself as one of the nation’s greatest adaptive swim coaches. He boasts a 12 year career cultivating the talent of swimmers of all abilities and he served on the 2004 Paralympic Staff. Coach Lamback has coached countless swimmers to the national level and multiple Paralympians
I first met the Lancaster family in early 2015. Collin Lancaster has been participating with BlazeSports for a number of years, participating in pretty much every sport we have available. If you watch Collin and get to know him, you will see that he embraces every new challenge with enthusiasm and works hard to overcome any obstacles. A multi-sport athlete and volunteer youth leader with a heart of gold.
Then I met Collin’s dad and quickly learned where Collin’s “never give up spirit” comes from. Marc Lancaster (and quite frankly the entire family) devotes countless volunteer hours and energy to supporting young adaptive athletes. In April 2015, Marc led the BlazeSports Junior Hawks Wheelchair Basketball Prep Team to their 4th National Title and most recently has taken on the additional role of track and field coach. Marc is kind, patient and a great motivator.
Curtis Lovejoy is not only a five-time Paralympian but is the oldest Paralympian in the US that is still competing! During his rehabilitation, Lovejoy overcame his fear of swimming and began swimming every day. From that time on, Curtis started to build a track record in swimming that to say is impressive is an understatement. Then he discovered fencing. In 2000, he became the first Paralympian to compete in two unrelated sports. He has set 10 world records in swimming and has medaled six-times across five Paralympic Games. In 2002, he became the first American to win two gold medals at the Wheelchair Fencing World Championships and then took home the silver in the 2013 World Games.
At 58, Lovejoy has become an inspiration to many people through the years following a car accident in 1986 in which he sustained a spinal cord injury. He is now training intensively six days a week for his sixth Paralympic Games in Rio next year but he still makes time to coach swimmers at the Shepherd Center. Curtis is indeed a “legend” as he is often referred to by fellow athletes and a Triumph of the Human Spirit Award winner.