Nicole Stafford Named 2017 Honda Inspiration Award Winner

Courtesy of Stanford Athletics
Courtesy of Stanford Athletics

Nicole Stafford, a senior swimmer from Stanford University, is named the Class of 2017 Honda Inspiration Award winner as announced by Judy Sweet, CWSA Board Member and Chair of The Collegiate Women Sports Awards (CWSA) Awards Inspiration Award committee. Stafford’s inspiring story will be highlighted during the live CBS Sports Network telecast of the 2017 CWSA Awards Program presented by Honda at 9 pm ET (6 pm PT), on Monday, June 26, from the USC Founders Club at Galen Center.

The Honda Inspiration Award has been given to a deserving female student-athlete in Division I, II or III for the past 28 years who has experienced extraordinary physical and/or emotional adversity, injury and/or illness, or experienced extraordinary personal sacrifice during her college enrollment as a student-athlete and yet returns to athletic success. Finalists for the 2017 award included senior skier Jesse Knori and junior swimmer Bailey Scott.  

A few months after committing to Stanford on a swimming scholarship, Stafford developed a functional movement disorder, an inexplicable neurological condition which presented itself as tremors and seizure-like movements of her whole body, when attempting to push herself in the pool. She lost the ability to perform a lot of the movements she had excelled in for many years.

Pushing herself too far, especially when she swam fast, could elicit painful full body spasms or tremors for up to 90 minutes. For several months, she made visits to the best medical and research centers in the country and the diagnosis came back as a functional movement disorder that also had been previously termed “conversion disorder” which had psychiatric implications. There was no drug, no treatment plan and no cure that any of the experts could recommend. From her freshman season when she didn’t know if she could continue swimming competitively at all to this day, Stafford continues to manage her disorder.

Despite these adversities, she ends her Stanford career as a five-time All-American and was a member of the 2017 NCAA and Pac-12 championship teams. Out of the pool, she is a three-time Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention and was a 2016 CSCAA Scholar All-American. 

"I am extremely humbled to receive the 2017 Honda Inspiration Award and I want to thank the CWSA and Honda for providing this opportunity," Stafford said. "I would like to recognize the other two finalists, Jesse and Bailey, who are just as deserving of this award for their amazing achievements attained after incredible hardships. I would also like to thank Stanford for nominating me for this award as well as for the support over my collegiate swimming career. Furthermore, I want to thank my parents, coaches Greg, Tracy and Joey, and my trainer Scott for their continual support and patience, and, most importantly, my teammates for always knowing how to help me even when I didn't ask and inspiring me to push my limits in the pool.

"Finally, I would like to accept this award on behalf of my club coach and previous Stanford Women's assistant coach Jason Turcotte who passed away unexpectedly this week. Jason was an essential figure in my life when I first developed my movement disorder before coming to Stanford. I received news about the award while attending his funeral service. I can't help but think that without his belief in me I would have lacked the confidence to continue my swimming career."

"We really appreciate the CWSA and Honda for recognizing Nicole, and the other two finalists, Jesse and Bailey, who all have amazing stories," said head coach Greg Meehan. "Nicole was always a big inspiration for us, seeing all she has gone through and experienced over the last four years, and all of the challenges and adversity she faced. It was so easy to look at Nicole as a source for inspiration and motivation. You just feel so great for her."

“Each Honda Inspiration winner has been an incredible source of inspiration to their teammates, sport and to all of us,” said CWSA Executive Director Chris Voelz. “Such is the incredible and brave story of Nicole Stafford.  The way in which she handled adversity and yet continued to compete in a sport she loves serves as life lessons to all of us. We are incredibly pleased to be able  to recognize her as the Honda Inspiration Award winner for the Class of 2017 so that her story may inspire others nationwide as they meet her in the CBS -SN feature on the June 26th broadcast."

The CWSA, in its 41st year, honors the nation’s top NCAA women athletes recognizing superior athletic skills, leadership, academic excellence and eagerness to participate in community service.  Since commencing its sponsorship in 1986, Honda has provided more than $3.1 million in institutional grants to the universities of the award winners and nominees to support women’s athletics programs at the institutions.