"This is a tremendous honour and, hopefully, this award will help others like me realise that nothing is impossible without hard work and dedication”
Two of Team USA’s gold medal winning ice sledge hockey players from the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games were recognised on Wednesday (16 July) evening at the prestigious 2014 ESPYS, held at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.
In its 22nd year, the ESPYS – short for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly – are decided by public vote and commemorate the most exciting moments, greatest achievements and top performances in sport around the globe.
Josh Sweeney - the ice sledge hockey player who scored the gold medal-winning goal in Team USA’s 1-0 victory over Russia at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games – received the inaugural Pat Tilman Award for Service.
The award, created by ESPN and the Pat Tillman Foundation in honour of former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman, recognises an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes the Tillman legacy.
"This is a tremendous honour and, hopefully, this award will help others like me realise that nothing is impossible without hard work and dedication,” said Sweeney, an able-bodied high school ice hockey player who was drawn to sledge hockey while in rehab for an injury he received from an improvised explosive device while serving as a sniper in the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan.
“Organisations like the Pat Tillman Foundation are amazing and being honoured by them is extremely humbling."
Sweeney received a standing ovation for his award before his name started trending worldwide on Twitter, just like it had in March when he hit the winning goal in Sochi.
Declan Farmer, Sweeney’s 16-year-old Sochi teammate, was voted the best male athlete with a disability at Wednesday night’s awards. The teenager was instrumental in the USA’s gold medal success in Sochi, playing over 87 minutes on the ice, scoring three goals and recording two assists in the tournament.
Others nominated in the category were alpine skier Mark Bathum, a two-time Sochi 2014 silver medallist and wheelchair racer Raymond Martin, who became the first male athlete to win five gold medals at last year’s World Championships. Snowboarders Evan Strong and Mike Shea, the gold and silver medallists from Sochi 2014 were also shortlisted.
The best female athlete with a disability award went to para-cyclist Jamie Whitmore who won gold medals in the time trial and pursuit events with world-record times at the 2014 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Mexico.
She beat off competition from cross-country skier Oksana Masters who won a silver and bronze medal at Sochi 2014; Laurie Stephens, a winner of two Sochi 2014 bronze medals in alpine skiing and Tatyana McFadden who won six athletics world titles and a silver in cross-country skiing at Sochi 2014.
Other winners on the night included boxer Floyd Mayweather, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Sidney Crosby and Cristiano Ronaldo.