Jimmy Baxter, a men's basketball and track & field student-athlete at the University of South Florida, has earned the 2004 NCAA Award of Valor for his heroic efforts, while Heather Denison, a volleyball student-athlete at the University of Portland, Emily Miller, a former soccer athlete at the University of Tennessee at Martin, and Mike Nyeholt, a former swimmer at the University of Southern California, are named the 2004 NCAA Inspiration Award recipients as role models of perseverance.
The NCAA will present the awards to the four recipients during its Honors Dinner at the NCAA Convention, January 11, 2004, in Nashville, Tennessee.
The NCAA Award of Valor recognizes a coach, administrator or current or former student-athlete who when confronted with a situation involving personal danger, averted or minimized the potential disaster by courageous action or noteworthy bravery.
Denison knew from an early age that an athletic scholarship was her ticket to an academic degree and a better life. Despite her early years of turmoil that included being a witness to her grandmother's death, abandonment by her father and her mother not being able to provide her with adequate care, Denison turned to sports as an adolescent, playing volleyball, basketball and running track. In an attempt to create a more balanced life, she changed residences and moved in with a high school teammate. While living with her teammate's family, Denison decided she definitely wanted to attend college. Denison eventually narrowed her focus to the sport of volleyball, and with the help of her surrogate family and several part-time jobs, she was able to join an elite volleyball club. She gained the attention of college coaches and ultimately earned a full athletic scholarship to attend the University of Portland.
The Gladstone, Oregon native has been quite successful in school. Denison is a three-year starter and four-year letterwinner in volleyball. She is a team captain, has earned several awards and is a volunteer in her community. As a double major in Life Science and Nursing, with a minor in exercise sports physiology, Denison hopes to become a nurse practitioner in the future.