2018 Awards

Coach Bobby Hurley

Dr. Leah Brown

Tarik El-Abour

Coach Bobby Hurley

Life was great for Bobby Hurley in fall of 1993. Not many had it better.

He had just ended a college career that had him pegged as one of the best players in NCAA history. He was a NBA Lottery Pick from Duke, shaking NBA commissioner David Stern’s hand as the seventh pick. Everyone wanted to be Bobby Hurley. The Duke and Sacramento King Hurley jerseys were a very popular item. The Kings had themselves one of the most marketable players in the league. He has been blessed to have been coached by two Hall of Famers in his dad, Bob Sr., at St. Anthony’s in high school and by Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.

It all changed so fast. The road back was anything but easy and the story is still being written.

In his rookie year at Sacramento on Dec. 12, 1993 – as he was averaging 7.4 points and 6.1 assists – he jumped in his car after a 112-102 loss to the Clippers. A Buick Station Wagon slammed into his Toyota 4Runner as he was making a left turn at a rural intersection and sent him more than 100 feet into a water-filled ditch road. What followed was over eight hours of surgery and a dozen injuries. Collapsed lungs, a torn ACL, trachea taken from left lung, fractured shoulder blade and broken ribs.

It wasn’t just the physical injuries and the long hospital stay that Coach Hurley had to overcome, it was finding the courage to move on with life when all was changed was the toughest part.

He did, which is why 25 years later he is being honored with The Courage Award. Many have come back from physical injuries to play again. Coach Hurley did, but he had to take a step back and realize he wouldn’t be able to do it at the highest level that he was used to and would only accept.

“It was a huge setback. Everything had been like a fairy tale: a high school state championship, two NCAA championships, first-round draft pick in the NBA. I didn’t have a ton of adversity,” notes Coach Hurley. “After the accident, I had to learn to maximize whatever I could get out of the talent I had left. And I went through a number of years where I was the 11th man, 10th man on the team, where my whole life I’d had a leading role. I had to learn to have some failure and still be a good teammate and practice hard.”

Many now see Bobby Hurley as the Arizona State men’s basketball coach who has led a resurgence in Tempe in his three years with record attendance numbers, a high-scoring offense, wins over marquee programs and a style that combines up-and- down fun action and hard-nosed never-going- to-back- down energy.

Some see that and also remember the ultra-successful Duke point guard from the early 1990s who ended his career as the NCAA all-time leader in assists. He played on NCAA title teams in 1991 and 1992, went to three Final Fours, earned Most Outstanding Player in the 1992 Final Four and went 18-2 in his NCAA Tournament career, also setting the assists record for the NCAA Tournament.

He did return to the NBA court the next year – when many people told him he was lucky to be alive — but when it became apparent he might not be able to play at the level he was used to, a change in his career was necessary.

“I always knew that was the direction I should go with my post-playing career. But I felt burned out. I was 29 years old and dealing with not living up to my own personal expectations, with having injuries … I had to just get away from the game. So I took a breather. Then I got into scouting in 2004, and that began generating my interest again. But I wasn’t working with people. I wasn’t sharing my experiences in basketball and what I learned.”

In the Spring of 2015, Arizona State hired Coach Hurley, and results reached the highest level when the Sun Devils started 12-0 this year – the best start in school history – and matched the highest ranking (No. 3) in school history.

Coach Hurley met his wife, Leslie, while in rehab on the east coast and has a beautiful family of five includes a daughter now graduated from Duke, another in the Honors program at Arizona State and a son attending high school in Phoenix.

Dr. Leah Brown

Leah Brown, M.D., is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and treatment of the knee, shoulder and elbow. She received her Bachelor’s of Science in genetics from the University of Georgia, where she was a 14-time NCAA All-American, and a two-time NCAA National Gymnastics Champion and was inducted into the University of Georgia’s Circle of Honor in 2016 for these accomplishments. After completing her undergraduate work, she was commissioned into the US Navy and earned a Doctor of Medicine degree at The Ohio State University/The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, followed by a General Surgery internship at Naval Medical Center San Diego.

Her early training completed, Dr. Brown served for two years as a Battalion Surgeon at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. In 2006, she was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, serving as Combat Logistics Battalion-5 Medical Aid Station Director. After returning from Iraq, Dr. Brown began a four-year residency in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Naval Medical Center San Diego. Upon completing residency, she joined the Center’s Department of Orthopedic Surgery as an Orthopedic Surgeon faculty member, followed by a similar position with Naval Hospital Bremerton in Bremerton, Washington. In 2012, Dr. Brown was deployed to Afghanistan as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom, where she served as Orthopedic Surgery Department Head for Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan in Tarin Kowt.

Dr. Brown is immensely proud of her military service, including being the recipient of nine military honors and awards, including the Bronze Star, Navy Commendation Medal and others. She was awarded the Bronze Star for humanitarian efforts treating women and children in Afghanistan in addition to providing outstanding combat support. Caring for our service members has been one of her greatest honors. “It was a privilege to take care of my fellow soldiers and to provide medical care to those deployed to Afghanistan,” she says. “The military is an incredible entity. It is an experience that I think everyone should have because of the comradery and teamwork.”

Dr. Brown said, “I grew up in a family where our parents stressed the importance of commitment to your community, country, and service. I always thought that serving my country would be a pretty cool thing.”

Dr. Brown’s operational unit was mostly made up of SEAL Team 4 members and support staff. The medical unit was heavily involved in caring for the Afghani forces, in addition to Coalition forces, as much of the mission was training them in their fight against insurgents and to establish the foundations of a democracy.

In addition, Dr. Brown’s medical unit carried out humanitarian work for the local nationals. It was here she could engage in what was “normal” to her – providing care to those who needed it. However, not long after arriving in Afghanistan, Dr. Brown inquired as to why her local patients never included any women. She was certain they endured injuries as well and although she suspected the answer was due to cultural barriers, the answer was shocking. Women were denied medical care because if another male saw them exposed or even so much as touched by another male, they would be considered a disgrace to the family resulting in cultural exile, divorce, shame and sometimes even harm. And because women are denied education, only men can achieve the title of medical doctor.

Motivated by her own experiences with adversities she approached her peers and leadership with her plan to provide care to women. With every donation to the local hospital, every educational endeavor training the local surgeons, and every interaction with any leader, they advocated for women’s health. After much planning, they were able to meet with the local Afghani Ministry of Health officials and made the bold declaration of the need for significant attention to women’s health.

After very intense discussions and affirming their commitment to respecting cultural practices, the plan for a women’s trauma clinic was put into action. Dr. Brown approached the female medical providers in her operational area and put together an all-female trauma team. Dr. Brown’s team was met with overwhelming excitement, both in their command and with local Afghani female leaders. Their impact was immediately significant. As the word spread among the local women, more and more women felt empowered to receive care.

Since 2013, Dr. Brown has worked as an orthopedic surgeon and independent medical examiner in the civilian sector, while continuing to serve as an orthopedic surgeon in the US Navy Reserves.

Dr. Leah Brown has persevered and become a leader in her field while repeatedly confronting long held biases that still permeate our society. These experiences, anchored by her own moral compass, solidified how Dr. Brown would endeavor to treat her patients and all people. She is an advocate for Veterans’ care, a devout community servant, an enthusiast of STEM education to underrepresented communities and a medical educator. She is the Phoenix Mercury team Orthopedic Surgeon, an official orthopedic consultant for the Tempe Union High School district and committed to caring for patients in the Tempe area with Hedley Orthopedic Institute.

Dr. Leah Brown is married to John Acker and currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona.


When 25-year-old outfielder Tarik El-Abour got the news from his mother, Nadia, that the Royals were going to sign him to a Minor League deal, he could barely contain himself.

“Nadia told me he just started walking from wall to wall,” Royals special advisor Reggie Sanders said. “He kept saying he can’t believe this is happening. He kept saying, “All I ever wanted was to play baseball.”

See, El-Abour became what is believed to be the first player with autism to sign a Minor League contract last week. El-Abour, a right-handed-hitting outfielder, presently is playing in extended spring training with many other hopeful young Royals.

El-Abour was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. He didn’t speak until he was 6. But his love of baseball at an early age persuaded Nadia to focus on his abilities, not disabilities, Sanders said.

According to the website autismspeaks.org, autism refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. It also is characterized by unique strengths.

“The repetitiveness of autism and the repetitiveness of baseball kind of go hand in hand,” Sanders said. “It’s great to be able to marry those two.” Sanders is well-informed on the subject. His 40-year-old brother Demetrious is autistic, and a few years back, Sanders founded RSFCares, which works to provide a comprehensive network of support for children and families living with autism.

Two years ago, a high school mentor for El-Abour brought his story to Sanders’ attention.

Sanders became fascinated with El-Abour. El-Abour graduated from San Marino High School, played baseball briefly at Pasadena City College, then received a scholarship to play baseball at Concordia (Calif.) University. But he was cut before the season began. A determined El-Abour transferred to Pacifica College, played a year there, and when the school merged with Bristol University, he played his season year there and earned a degree in Business Administration.

After graduation, El-Abour, a 5-foot-11, 170-pounder, signed with the independent Empire League and played for the Sullivan Explorers in southern New York. He hit .323 and won rookie of the year honors. Last year, he hit .240 for the Plattsburgh Red Birds.

Sanders approached the Royals about letting El-Abour take batting practice prior to a game with the Angels last season. The Royals were all in. And when Sanders saw how easily El-Abour fit in with the Major League players personally, as well as with his bat, he decided he eventually would take things to the next level.

That next level came in February when he convinced general manager Dayton Moore and his staff to consider offering El-Abour a contract. The Royals’ organization has a history of inclusion, having rescued the career of Jim Eisenreich, who had Tourette’s Syndrome as well as Asperger Syndrome (a form of autism).

The Royals made the offer to El-Abour. Sanders couldn’t be prouder of the Royals or El- Abour.

“After his first game, Tarik called me in extended spring training,” Sanders said, “and he said, “I’m in the right place”.


I grew up on a farm in the small town of Lovettsville, Virginia. I graduated from Loudoun Valley High School in 2003, and from Virginia Tech in 2007. In my junior year at Virginia Tech, I joined the Marine Corps Reserve as a combat engineer at Bravo Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion in Roanoke, VA. In the Marine Corps, combat engineers are responsible for a multitude of disciplines but the primary role that I and my fellow combat engineers undertook was the use of explosives, and the detection of buried IEDs and weapons caches.

I deployed to Habbaniyah, Iraq in 2008, and again to Delaram/Sangin, Afghanistan in 2010. During my deployment to Afghanistan while operating as a part of a push into Taliban territory, I was tasked with clearing an area with a high likelihood of containing an IED. It was in this capacity that I was wounded in action by a land mine. The injury resulted in a left knee dis-articulation and a right above knee amputation of my legs.

I was taken to National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD for the initial phases of my recovery, which consisted primarily of healing and closing my wounds. I was then transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the remainder of my rehabilitation. At Walter Reed I was fitted with prosthetics, and worked very hard to learn how to walk with two bionic knees. I also used the time to relearn how to do other things with my new challenge including riding a bicycle, running, and rowing. I took naturally to rowing, and since I am always in search of a challenge that I can use to become better, I decided to train for the 2012 Paralympics.

After being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in December, 2011, I immediately moved to Florida to train with my rowing partner, Oksana. We spent five months there, and during that time period won the trunk and arms mixed double sculls trial race held by USRowing to become the USRowing national team for our boat class, and also won the Final Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Belgrade to qualify for the Paralympics. We then moved to Charlottesville, Virginia to continue training until the Paralympics in September, 2012. Our hard work paid off for us as we brought home a bronze medal in our event. I continued in the sport of rowing through the 2013 season, where my partner and I placed 4th in the 2013 World Rowing Championships.

On October 14, 2013 I began a solo supported bike ride across America which started in Bar Harbor, Maine, and ended in Camp Pendleton, California. The ride was 5,180 miles long and completed on April 13, 2014, a total of 181 days after it began. Over the course of the ride, along with my team, I raised $126,000 for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, and Ride 2 Recovery, three charities which aid wounded veterans.

Between Fall 2014, and Summer 2016, I trained in the sport of triathlon with the intention to compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games. I saw considerable personal improvement, but was unable to qualify.

Currently I am planning to complete a month long back to back marathon challenge in which I will run 31 marathons in 31 days in 31 different major cities, once again raising awareness and funds for wounded veteran charities.

Jackson Ryan- high school pitcher excelling in baseball and life with cerebral palsy

Jackson Ryan does not let cerebral palsy define him. He loves to play football, basketball and pitching for his high school baseball team.

Jackson is no ordinary high school baseball player. The senior’s grandfather is Hall of Fame pitcher, Nolan Ryan. His father, Reid Ryan, is president of the Houston Astros.

Jackson is a reliever for the TAPPS 4A defending state champion Eagles, coached by six-time MLB All-Star Lance Berkman and assisted by five-time World Series champion pitcher Andy Pettitte. When the 6-foot, 145-pounder takes the mound he carries a rich legacy and big expectations.

But it hasn’t been all baseball celebrity and smooth sailing for Jackson. Life dealt him a bit of a curveball at birth. “We learned Jackson had cerebral palsy on the day he was born, which affected the muscle tone and posture on the right side of his body,” Reid said. “The doctor told us he may never walk or talk and gave us a list of potential problems. It was a tough time. Your mind goes to the worst possibilities. We didn’t know what to expect.”

The resilient Jackson has refused to let the disability determine his future. He has powered through years of physical therapy to play the game he loves — and has never quit. The 17-year-old lefty lacks fine motor skills in his right hand and wears a special velcro strip on that side that attaches to another piece on the inside of his glove. After Jackson releases the ball from his left hand, he pulls the velcro apart and immediately puts his left hand in the glove during the follow-through to protect himself. He essentially throws and catches with the same hand and executes his legendary grandfather’s most important lesson.

“I’ve always told him to throw strikes,” Nolan said.

In 2017, Jackson has logged 66 strikes, nine strikeouts and holds a 1-0 record with a 4.94 ERA in 5.2 innings pitched for the 24-9-1 Eagles this season. He has mastered the art of being a one-armed pitcher.

“I think of myself as a normal person and do the best I can to my abilities,” Jackson said. “I have a couple disadvantages, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I have to go with it.”

His abilities have an effect on those around him. I think he inspires a lot of people,” Reid said. “Whether it’s able-bodied kids on the team or younger kids who go to the games. It’s also motivating to the parents and kids with disabilities. He’s never let his disability hold him back. He’s doing all this with one hand, so what can others complain about? Numerous kids with cerebral palsy have approached us throughout the years and told us he inspired them. Jackson pushes me, and he doesn’t even know it.”

His former World Series champion head coach recognizes a winner when he sees one.

“The fact that he’s able to do as much as he is with his disability is incredible,” Berkman said. “More than that is his mindset and approach to life. He shows up and is ready to go every day. He’s got that determination and laser focus. You just see it all over him when he’s on the mound, this is what he’s all about. He’ll run through a brick wall before he’ll quit. This is what it means to face a difficult challenge head on and not making any excuses. Don’t look for an easy way out, work and overcome the obstacles that you’ll face in your life.”

Jackson simply knows no limits.

“Don’t put any limitations on yourself,” Jackson said. “Do what you want to do and go for it.”