Dec. 20, 2002
INDIANAPOLIS — Todd Williams, a senior offensive guard on the Florida State football team, has been selected as one of three NCAA Inspiration Award recipients. The award, which honors individuals who overcome life-altering situations, will be presented at the NCAA Honors Dinner Sunday, January 12, at the Disneyland Hotel, during the 97th annual NCAA Convention in Anaheim, California. Diane Geppi-Aikens, head women’s lacrosse coach of Loyola College (Maryland) and Amanda Walton, a student-athlete at Yale University, were the other two recipients of this year’s NCAA Inspiration Award.
The Inspiration Award, created by the NCAA Honors Committee, is presented to a current or former NCAA varsity letter winner or to a coach or administrator currently associated with intercollegiate athletics at an NCAA institution who, according to the criteria, “when confronted with a life-altering situation, used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome the event, and now serves as a role model to give hope and inspiration to others in similar situations.”
Williams survived homelessness, an environment of crime and the deaths of both parents and a grandmother, yet managed to graduate in four years with degrees in criminology and sociology. Overcoming the adversity and despite playing one year of high school football, Williams blossomed into a two-year starter at Florida State University.
Williams had been raised by his grandmother since he was nine years old and when she died from diabetes in 1993, he fled to the streets of south Florida. Homeless and in the ninth grade, he broke into hotels for shelter and stole food and clothes to survive. Later, he was placed in a juvenile center following a fight, and then sent to a halfway house because no one picked him up at the juvenile center upon his release. During his sophomore year of high school, Williams transferred to Bradenton Southeast High School. During his senior year, coaches convinced Williams to play football. Despite never having played the game, Williams performed well enough to attract Florida State’s attention and earn a scholarship.
A native of Brandenton, Florida, Williams tells his story to youth while serving as a counselor at football camps throughout the southern Florida region. Williams also finds time to work for the Florida State police as a part of its student patrol. He is currently taking graduate courses at Florida State and has attracted attention as a National Football League prospect.
Coach Geppi-Aikens has undergone three operations to remove a recurring brain tumor, and despite ongoing chemotherapy treatments, she has managed to lead her team to a 15-4 record this past year and its seventh consecutive NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament appearance.
In March 1995, a CAT scan revealed a three-centimeter tumor on the right side of Geppi-Aikens’ brain. The tumor was removed six games into the 1995 season following a craniotomy brain surgery procedure. In 1997 and 1998, her initial symptoms recurred leading to her second full craniotomy procedure. Following surgery, she received 30 radiation treatments. Once again in 2001, Geppi-Aikens’ brain tumor recurred. This time, after her third full procedure, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. While overcoming brain surgeries and chemotherapy, Geppi-Aikens managed to compile an impressive 180-69 record over the past 14 seasons at Loyola (Maryland).
A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Geppi-Aikens has raised four children as a single parent throughout her illness. She also is an advocate speaker to newly diagnosed brain tumor patients.
Walton miraculously survived a near fatal automobile accident after a speeding vehicle, whose occupant was fleeing police, demolished her car. Walton suffered brain trauma, massive internal injuries and fractured bones in the accident, and was left in a coma for more than a month, abruptly ending an already spectacular career. As a freshman she was named rookie of the year in two sports (field hockey and lacrosse). She also was first team All-Ivy League in both sports and first team All-American in field hockey.
Despite the accident, Walton returned to the Yale sidelines as a volunteer assistant coach for field hockey. A native of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, she serves as a mentor and inspiration to the women’s field hockey team and the community around her. The Yale Athletics Department inaugurated an award in her honor, which is presented, “to an outstanding athlete who has excelled on the field of play and who has shown spirit and courage in transcending unforeseen challenges.” Walton was the inaugural recipient of this award.