In 2009, the ANNIKA Foundation partnered with the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) to create the ANNIKA Inspiration Award, a national title given annually to a young female athlete who not only excels in her sport, but demonstrates leadership, provides inspiration for others and gives back to her community. As part of its Annual Salute to Women in Sports Gala, the WSF annually presents five major awards across all female sports.
Vivian Hao, Tennis
Vivian Hao has taken her passion for the individual sport of tennis and has made it into a community affair. A recipient of the 2012-2013 Foot Locker Scholar Athlete award, the 2013 Dwight F. Davis Memorial Scholarship and a National Merit Scholarship finalist, she exemplifies the passionate student athlete. At her high school in Tennessee, Hao supports volunteering efforts like SPEAK: A Movement to End the World’s Worst Atrocities, through which she raises money for student refugees from the genocide in Darfur. She also serves as Youth Advisory Council Chair of United Way and, through multiple fundraisers, raises money each year to benefit local organizations.
Hao’s motivation for volunteerism came after she had recovered from the loss of her beloved father. At the age of nine, tennis offered her not only the benefits of structure and mental discipline but also rewarded her with a feeling of control and accomplishment. In order to help others forgo such feelings of helplessness and isolation as she herself had suffered, Hao participated in a volunteer program that taught tennis to children with special needs. Hao realized that, while grief isolated her, it was the physical and psychological disabilities of these children which similarly isolated them. In learning and teaching tennis, both Hao and her students improved their self-confidence, self-discipline and concentration in pursuit of their common goal, to play tennis well and by extension to do well in life.
Lianna Thomas, Figure Skating
Lianna Thomas, now a 17-year-old competitive figure skater, first discovered her love for skating at the age of 5. Her competitive spirit and dedication to skating yielded a gold medal at the 2011 State Games of America in San Diego, California as a junior single skater. This success was an early sign of her dedication and leadership. In search of a new challenge, she transitioned to pair skating. Thomas enthusiastically embraced this change, explaining that, “it is like falling in love with skating all over again.” After training together for only six months, Thomas and her partner qualified for the 2012 United States Figure Skating Championships.
Thomas was adopted from her native China by her U.S. family when she was just an infant. Drawing from her own life experiences, she was motivated to give back to her community. In 2009, Thomas founded Ice Pandas, a program which introduces figure skating as a confidence building activity for children adopted from China. In April of this year she relocated from New York to California to train and worked on organizing her new Ice Pandas, which will begin at the end of September 2012. Thomas received the 2011 Presidential Bronze Award for Service, awarded by the U.S. Government to honor Americans who meet a high standard of commitment to volunteer service and the Guanyin Award from Families with Children from China of Greater New York (FCCNY) for her outstanding work in the community. Thomas also started an after school reading group to help adopted children succeed in school. In addition to her work with young adoptees, after the earthquake in Haiti, Thomas raised money for Red Cross relief by creating a video appeal on behalf of the victims, “The Dollar Deal,” through which she asked friends and family for donations starting at one dollar. In addition to being an inspiration to young figure skaters, Thomas has transcended her sport and in doing so, aspires to become a positive role model for everyone all over the world.
Winter Vinecki, Triathlon
Team Winter is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising money for cancer research via competition in races and triathlons. The inspiration for Team Winter began when Winter Vinecki, an avid runner and competitor, raised $1,100 in donations for cancer research by running a 10k race. This success only made her more ambitious. Winter was so determined, she partnered with other athletes to raise more money for health causes and formed her non-profit organization, Team Winter. She was 9.
Winter’s early interest in cancer research would soon hit terribly close to home when her dad, Michael, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008. At only 9 years old, she and other members of her Team Winter, swam, cycled, and ran their way through a triathlon and helped raise more than $100,000 for prostate cancer awareness and research. Her website, Facebook and Twitter pages helped Winter spread the word. Today, Team Winter counts some 200 athletes as members, who have brought in more than $250,000 for the cause.
“I’m determined to make Team Winter synonymous with prostate cancer,” says Winter, now 12. “We’ll have blue ribbons instead of pink.” Sadly, Winter’s dad did not live to see all that his daughter had accomplished. He died less than a year after his diagnosis at age 40. But Winter believes her father is proud of her. “I know he’s watching me,” she says.
In addition to her work with Team Winter, Winter participates in several local events put on by Salem Hospital in Salem, Oregon and has been an IronKids Ambassador for the past two years. Her dedication to her sport, her athletic accomplishments to date, and the leadership that she has shown for the memory of her father makes her a truly inspirational young woman. To learn more about Team Winter, visit www.teamwinter.org.
The 2011 ANNIKA Inspiration Award was presented to Winter by Annika at the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Annual Salute to Women in Sports awards dinner on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011.
Caitlin Baker, Swimming
Caitlin Baker, a swimmer since the age of 8 and nationally ranked since age 11, is a member of the Muscogee Creek Tribe. Caitlin, now 17, started CAITLINB, an outreach program to promote swimming, sports participation and healthy lifestyles to Native American youth who are prone to high instances of diabetes. CAITLINB stands for Competitive American Indians Turning Lifestyles Into New Beginnings. Caitlin travels across the country to speak with Native American youth, and shares her message of the importance of living a healthy lifestyle to combat the high incidence of diabetes. She has given back so much in her young life, including testifying for her cause on Capitol Hill and swimming 1.5 miles in the icy waters from Alcatraz to San Francisco to raise money for her organization. Learn more about Caitlin and her cause at www.CAITLINB.com.
The 2010 ANNIKA Inspiration Award was presented to Caitlin by Annika at the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Annual Salute to Women in Sports awards dinner on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010.