Every summer, ESPN collects the votes of hundreds of thousands of sports fans to choose the top American athletes and teams of the year, then honors the winners at the ESPY Awards, a Hollywood gala. This year, seven athletes were on the ballot for Best Athlete with a Disability awards: Steve Cash, Rudy Garcia-Tolson, Andy Soule, Linnea Dohring, Alana Nichols, Amy Palmiero-Winters, and Stephani Victor.
Steve Cash, the Paralympic sled-hockey goalie who ushered the United States to a historic all-shut-out gold medal, was voted Best Male Athlete with a Disability. Cash, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, first earned a slot of the U.S. sled hockey team in 2004 and has been a starter on the team since 2007. He wears a prosthesis on his right leg due to a post-cancer amputation.
Amy Palmiero-Winters, the ultra-distance runner who became the first person with an amputation to become a member of a U.S. senior national team, was voted Best Female Athlete with a Disability. Palmiero-Winters completed ten ultramarathons in 2009, including winning overall the Arizona Road Racers 24-Hour Run to the Future. In 2010 she became the first amputee to run in the Western States Endurance Race (Western States 100) and the first to compete at the 24-Hour Run World Championship. She is also the former holder of the best-known marathon time for male or female amputees and won the 2010 Amateur Athletic Union’s Sullivan Award for being the outstanding athlete of the year.
Rudy Garcia-Tolson and Andy Soule were also on the men’s roster for the award, and Linnea Dohring, Alana Nichols, and Stephani Victor were on the women’s roster. Garcia-Tolson is a multiple-gold-winning Paralympic swimmer who, in October 2009, became the first person with a bilateral transfemoral amputation to complete an Ironman-distance triathlon. Soule is a Paralympic Nordic skier and biathlete who won a bronze medal in the sitting division of the Vancouver Games, becoming the first American in history to win a biathlon medal in the Paralympic or Olympic Games. Dohring is a high-school gymnast who consistently scores in the top of her division despite having a congenital limb difference. Nichols and Victor are both Paralympic skiers. Nichols was the top-scoring American athlete at the Paralympic Games, bringing home four of the nation’s six gold medals. Victor has been an alpine racer since 1999 and has spent much of her career as reigning World Champion in her sport.