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2018 NCAA Award of Valor: Crystal Griner

Former Hood student-athlete recognized for saving lives during congressional baseball shooting

By Crystal Griner as told to Brian Burnsed

Crystal Griner and U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, whom she helped save, are presented with ceremonial footballs during halftime of the 2017 congressional football game on Oct. 11, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Crystal Griner, a former Hood College basketball player who graduated in 2006, was one of two U.S. Capitol Police officers on site when a gunman opened fire at a June 14 Republican congressional baseball team practice in Alexandria, Virginia. Griner was shot in the ankle while protecting the lawmakers in attendance and was later hailed as a hero for helping prevent any fatalities, save for the attacker.  She will receive the 2018 NCAA Award of Valor for her actions. Here, she reflects on the path that led her to that fateful day:

Griner will be honored with the NCAA’s Award of Valor during the NCAA Honors Celebration on Wednesday, Jan. 17, in Indianapolis. This award is given to a student-athlete, coach or administrator who, when confronted with a situation involving personal danger, averted or minimized potential disaster by courageous action. The award is not presented annually, but in the event of an outstanding act of valor.

When I was 13, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and given only a few months to live. She fought hard and survived for three years. Those three years were some of the hardest for my family. During that time, I played AAU basketball, and our practices were at Hood College. I became familiar with the campus and the coaches, who were very supportive and understanding of my situation. After my mom passed, the decision to choose a college was pretty simple: Hood was a smaller institution that made me feel like I was part of a close family community rather than a number.

The two years I played were definitely worth the time and commitment. Playing basketball helped me balance and focus my energy into something I could feel proud of.

Crystal Griner during her playing days at Hood. Griner graduated from the college in 2006. CREDIT: Hood College photo

I started off pursuing a medical career and tried to stay on the science path as a health inspector. However, I needed more action and couldn’t stay motivated in that field — I’d always played sports. Joining the police academy in July 2008 gave me just that. The academy challenged me and pushed my limits. One of my co-workers kept encouraging me to join a specialty division — Dignitary Protection. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was a good fit, but she compared it to playing basketball and being part of a team. Working with my team, traveling state to state and accomplishing successful missions have kept me motivated.

My team, for the past five years, has been my second family. Just like on the court, you rely on these men and women. You develop a trust and understanding with one another. A simple stare or gesture between us is all it takes to jump into action and apply our training to a particular situation. Serving as an agent, or in any law enforcement position, sharpens your ability to see the floor like in basketball. You learn to anticipate the next move as the situation is unfolding right in front of you, and you’re trained to counter with a strong defense.

This was a skill that has helped me the most. Observing and knowing your players, practicing your game plan and visualizing the possible scenarios are the key factors to prepare for the daily challenges you may encounter.