Class of 2018 Honda Inspiration Award Finalists Announced

Nicole Stafford, Class of 2017 Honda Inspiration Award Winner
Nicole Stafford, Class of 2017 Honda Inspiration Award Winner

Redshirt-senior Megan Cunningham of the University of Missouri, senior Kara Eck from Trine University and UCLA’s six-year senior Christine Peng-Peng Lee are named finalists for the Honda Inspiration Award as announced by Judy Sweet, CWSA Board Member and Chair of The Collegiate Women Sports Awards (CWSA) Awards Inspiration Award committee.

The Honda Inspiration Award winner for the Class of 2018 will be selected from these three finalists by the CWSA Board of Directors and announced at a later date. A winner has been selected annually for the past 30 years and will be presented on a live telecast on CBS Sports Network on June 25, 2018, in the Founders’ Room at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California in downtown Los Angeles, as part of the two-day Honda Awards event.

A special broadcast of the three nominees overcoming adversity called Defying the Odds: The 2018 Honda Inspiration Award will air on CBS Sports Network on June 19 at 7 pm ET.

Chris Voelz, Executive Director of The CWSA said, "We are thrilled that our television partner, CBS Sports Network, will be airing the stories of the Honda Inspiration Award finalists for the first time. The student-athletes have experienced the adversity; their teammates, families, departments and universities have been inspired and we believe that those who tune in to the broadcast will also be moved by these stories of bravery, persistence and courage."

The Honda Inspiration Award is given to a deserving female student-athlete in Division I, II or III 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.

"On behalf of the CWSA Inspiration Committee, I am pleased to announce the three finalists for the Class of 2018 Inspiration Award,” said Sweet. “We reviewed 21 strong nominations, and while each one had a truly inspiring story, these three finalists most fully met the criteria for the Inspiration Award. We applaud their courage and strong resilience in overcoming their challenges and subsequently competing successfully in their sport.”

Megan Cunningham, Redshirt-Senior, University of Missouri, Cross Country and Track

At the end of her sophomore season, Cunningham and her family were involved in a serious car accident that sent Megan on her own unique course. The accident resulted in two cracks and some shattering in her skull causing brain bleeding and fractures to her spine. She missed an entire year of competition and had to restructure her academic schedule to accommodate for her physical state. Her doctor indicated it may take up to 5 years before she overcomes the resulting migraines, blackouts, dizziness and vertigo.

From this adversity she questioned if she would be able to live a normal life again moving forward. Can she go to med school and be a doctor? Will she be able to run again? With the help of those around her and her willingness to set her own standards, she remained positive throughout the process and embraced challenges with the mindset of opportunities to get one step better in the long road to recovery. Eventually, she found herself competing for an SEC Championship. Megan won the 2018 SEC Indoor 5000m event and on April 14th she recorded the 4th fastest 5000m run in program history.  In addition, she is a USA Track and Field All-Academic Honoree and has been accepted into medical school.

Kara Eck, Senior, Trine University, Track and Field

Kara’s college life has always contained challenges - with part-time employment as well as being a mom to her 3-year old daughter. But Kara’s college career got more complicated with sacrifices and adversity as she learned that what she thought was a sinus infection was actually a brain infection resulting in an emergency craniotomy to remove a life-threatening infection in December 2017.

This infection was physically debilitating and critical, yet two months later Kara was at the track walking laps and on her way to recovery. Her positivity through this process was instrumental in her healing and recovery process. Sixty-seven days post-surgery, Kara again put on her uniform to compete for Trine at the indoor conference championships. No one knew the outcome of this decision; could she even compete again, would she have the strength to throw, was she physically and mentally ready to throw? The answer was a resounding yes as Kara won both the shot put and weight throw at the meet.

Her career has culminated in her being a four-time All-America honoree, 10-time national qualifier, four-event school record holder, four-event conference record holder, 11-time conference champion and two-time national athlete of the week. Kara is arguably the best athlete to ever don a Trine University jersey.

Christine Peng-Peng Lee, Redshirt-Senior, UCLA, Gymnastics

Christine was Canada's top gymnast going into the 2012 Olympic Games. However, two months prior to the Olympics, she blew out her knee and had to have knee reconstruction surgery. Not only was she unable to compete at the Olympics, but she had to sit out her UCLA freshman season in 2013. After rehabbing her knee that whole year, she was cleared to return to gymnastics only to discover in October of 2013 that her knee had rejected the allograft used in her initial surgery. Christine underwent a second surgery, an ACL revision using an autograft patella tendon, in November of 2013. She sat out the 2014 season rehabbing the knee once again. She finally returned to competition in January of 2015 and went through a full season competing primarily on three events, but more setbacks occurred the following season. In November of 2015, she underwent thumb surgery to repair a torn ligament, which limited her to just balance beam for the early part of the season. She was able to compete on vault for two competitions in February but then underwent another knee surgery, missing a month and a half of competition due to arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus. She returned that year in time for NCAA competition but was only able to compete on uneven bars.

Throughout all her injuries and surgeries, she has maintained a positive attitude and zest for life and gymnastics.  She recently helped her UCLA team win the NCAA National Championship by scoring perfect 10s in two events.

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 $3.5 million in institutional grants to the universities of the award winners and nominees to support women’s athletics programs at the institutions.