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Honors Celebration reaches to the stars

Awards ceremony recognizes former college athletes who contribute to society, college sports

The NCAA Honors Celebration recognizes former college athletes who contribute to society, college sports.

NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore logged 178 days in space and completed 21 combat missions as a Navy pilot in Operation Desert Storm.

On Wednesday evening at the NCAA Honors Celebration, he was named the 2018 recipient of the Theodore Roosevelt Award at the NCAA Convention in Indianapolis.

Wilmore’s life has revolved around overcoming challenges, and one of the biggest in his life came during his undergraduate days at Tennessee Tech, where he majored in electrical engineering while competing on the football team.

2018 Theodore Roosevelt Award recipient Capt. Barry “Butch” Wilmore.

Competing for Tennessee Tech in 1985, he made 143 tackles as an outside linebacker his senior season. After graduation, Wilmore joined the Navy and learned to fly jets.

He amassed 663 carrier landings and more than 7,000 flight hours in his 30-year naval career.

Wilmore joined NASA in summer 2000 after being selected to be an astronaut from a pool of thousands of applicants.

Wilmore has made two trips into space: an 11-day trip as a space shuttle pilot in 2009 and a 167-day assignment aboard the International Space Station that ended in March 2015.

“People ask me if, when I’m on the ground, do you dream about being in space?” Wilmore said. “I don’t dream a lot. But I’ve never dreamt about being in space or landing or taking off from an aircraft carrier. But the reoccurring dream I have is I get the opportunity one more time to play college football again.”

2018 NCAA Award of Valor recipient Crystal Griner.

Another highlight of the NCAA Honors Celebration was the NCAA Award of Valor given to Crystal Griner. She is a former Hood College basketball player who graduated in 2006 and 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.

“I believe my time as a student-athlete significantly shaped the person I am today,” Griner said. “The values of leadership, respecting teamwork and being able to handle myself under pressure are key reasons why I am here today.”

Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Jim Kelly was the recipient of the NCAA Inspiration Award.

A year after he retired in 1996, Kelly and his wife, Jill, welcomed their son, Hunter, into the world. Four months later, Hunter was diagnosed with Krabbe leukodystrophy, a fatal disease that took his life eight years later.

2018 NCAA Inspiration Award recipient Jim Kelly.

Kelly started Hunter’s Hope, a foundation that funds research into the cause, prevention and treatment of Krabbe and other leukodystrophies.

“We are not stopping until kids out there can make their dreams come true to live a quality life,” Kelly said. “People told me that I was a chosen father with a special boy named Hunter. I can make a difference, and I’m not stopping until we do make a difference.”

In 2013, Kelly was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma and had a portion of his upper jaw removed. The cancer returned a year later. After surviving a second bout with the disease, Kelly launched the “Your Cancer Game Plan” campaign, which provides tools to help meet the emotional, nutritional and communication needs of cancer patients and their loved ones.

The Honors Celebration also highlighted six NCAA Silver Anniversary Award recipients, who were recognized for being accomplished former student-athletes 25 years after the conclusion of their college careers.

The recipients were:

  • Jason Elam, a former kicker and communications major at Hawaii and the all-time leading scorer for the Denver Broncos with 1,786 points, is now the director of Israel for E3 Partners/I Am Second Ministries, which coordinates, recruits and supports mission trips assisting Palestinians, Israelis and other nationals so they can evangelize and establish churches in their regions.
  • Julie Foudy, a former three-time soccer All-American and biological sciences major at Stanford and captain of the U.S. Women’s National Team, founded the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy, which focuses on developing young women using sports as a vehicle and empowering young women from all socioeconomic backgrounds to become leaders who positively impact their communities.
  • Jim Hansen, a former offensive lineman and aerospace engineering major at Colorado, serves as the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Marine Meteorology Division, where he leads a team of 120 scientists, engineers and support personnel and oversees a $35 million budget annually.
  • Nnenna Lynch, a former five-time NCAA champion distance runner and sociology major at Villanova, works as the managing principal and director of development for the Georgetown Co., a real estate developer and owner.
  • David Morrow, a former lacrosse player and English major at Princeton who led the Tigers to the NCAA title in 1992, founded Warrior Sports after he invented the titanium shaft for a lacrosse stick. His company is now a global sports brand that specializes in lacrosse and hockey equipment, employing more than 500 people and supplying collegiate teams across the country.
  • Lance Pilch, a former baseball player and electrical engineering major at Air Force, served as commander of the 27th Fighter Squadron at Langley Air Force Base, where he was the first to lead the F-22A to the Central Command area of responsibility. Currently, he is a brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force,

The NCAA also presented its Today’s Top 10 Award to the 2016-17 graduates who excelled on the field, in the classroom and in the community. The recipients were:

Kasey Cooper, a softball player from Auburn; Marie Coors, a golfer from Saint Leo; Lizzy Crist, a soccer player from Washington U. in St. Louis; Danielle Galyer, a swimmer from Kentucky; Sarah Gibson, a swimmer from Texas A&M; Riley Hanson, a volleyball player from Concordia-St. Paul; Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, a tennis player from Virginia; Amy Regan, a distance runner from Stevens Institute of Technology; Deko Ricketts, a distance runner from Washington U. in St. Louis; and Maggie Steffens, a water polo player from Stanford.