The United States & Paralympic Olympic Committee today announced that the fourth annual Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award will be presented to Olympic swimming champion Amy Van Dyken at the 2019 Team USA Awards presented by Dow, Best of the Year, taking place Nov. 19 at Universal Studios. The annual award recognizes an individual who has served as a powerful force for good in society, inspiring others by contributing to a better world, uniting people or leading a cause.
Established in collaboration with the Owens family on the 80th anniversary of Owens’ record-breaking performance at the Olympic Games Berlin 1936, the award looks to celebrate his spirit and legacy, and to recognize their presence in others. Stuart Rankin, grandson of Jesse Owens, will present the award to Van Dyken at the ceremony on behalf of his family.
Van Dyken has dedicated her life to improving the lives of people with spinal cord injuries. Through the Amy Van Dyken Foundation and Amy’s Army, her Wheels for Kids initiative raises money to provide wheelchairs for children in need. She works directly with hospitals, therapists and case workers to trade poor-fitting wheelchairs for those that fit children’s growing bodies and allow them better movement and freedom.
A six-time Olympic champion in swimming and U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame member, Van Dyken was in a severe ATV accident that severed her spinal cord on June 6, 2014 – just over five years ago. Since that time, she has directed her efforts toward improving the lives of others and raising awareness for spinal cord injuries. She has embodied the spirit of Jesse Owens’ legacy by using her Olympic platform to contribute to a better world.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled to be honored by the USOPC, especially with an award named after the legendary Jesse Owens,” Van Dyken said. “Jesse Owens continues to be a role model to all Olympians and Paralympians, showing us that sport has the power to ignite change in society and gives us a platform to impact others in a positive way. I’m grateful to receive this award and to continue on the legacy of such an inspiring Olympic champion.”
In addition to Wheels for Kids, the Amy Van Dyken Foundation donates assistive devices to individuals with spinal cord injuries across the country, including patient lifts, standing frames that help with bone health and circulation, and assistive beds that make sleeping more restful. Van Dyken has been involved with numerous charities since her swimming career, including the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and as a board member for Celebrity Fight Night, which has raised $90 million through celebrity charity events to promote ongoing efforts to eliminate sickness and poverty since 1994.
“Amy has embodied the Olympic and Paralympic spirit throughout the many chapters of her remarkable life,” said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland. “She reached the pinnacle of competitive excellence in the pool as the most accomplished U.S. athlete at the 1996 Olympics, then went on to move our nation once again through her inspiring comeback and positivity after such a life-changing accident. And now, her service to others is helping to improve the lives of those with disabilities and make the world a more accessible and compassionate place. Her message and her story remind us to appreciate all that life has given us, and that acts of kindness can move the world.”
Previous winners of the award include fellow Olympians Muhammad Ali (2016), Allyson Felix (2017) and Kristi Yamaguchi (2018).
In addition to the Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award, the Team USA Awards will recognize the most outstanding U.S. performances throughout the year, including Olympic and Paralympic female, male, teams and coaches of the year. The evening will also honor members from the Team USA two-man and four-man bobsled teams from the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, who will receive their Olympic silver medals in special medal reallocation ceremonies.
The Team USA Awards will be hosted by Olympic wrestling champion Jordan Burroughs from 6-7:15 p.m. PT at Universal Studios in Universal City, California, and will be broadcast Dec. 22, 2019, from 2-3 p.m. ET on NBC. The event will also include a private after-party hosted exclusively for guests of the event within “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Studios Hollywood. Van Dyken, Burroughs and dozens of attending athletes will be available for interviews on the red carpet from 4:30-5:45 p.m. PT.
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