Amanda Walton, who survived a near-fatal car accident in 2000 after her sophomore year at Yale, received the NCAA Inspiration Award Sunday in the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, Calif. at the 97th annual NCAA Convention.
Walton won Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors in both field hockey and women’s lacrosse during her freshman season at Yale. She was just the fourth player in Ivy League history to claim both honors.
“Amanda [Walton] exemplifies what the award signifies and represents,” field hockey head coach Ainslee Lamb said. “What is most exciting is that this award recognizes Amanda’s outstanding contributions here and now. It acknowledges her integral role with the Yale field hockey team, and publicly announces the impact that she still continues to make on her teammates athletic pursuits and life endeavors.”
As a sophomore, Walton earned First Team All-Ivy in both sports and First Team All-American status in field hockey. Walton is tied with Emily Montgomery ’78 for the Yale field hockey single-season scoring record. In 2000, Walton notched 39 points on 18 goals and three assists.
But on May 28, 2000, her promising career was tragically halted.
While Walton was driving through Meriden, a motorist, fleeing a high-speed police pursuit, crashed his Buick Riviera into the side of Walton’s Saab, sending her car careening 100 feet down the street. The car accident left her with brain trauma, internal injuries, fractured bones and a month-long coma.
Since then, Walton has gone through extensive rehabilitation and has made great progress.
This fall, during what would have been her senior season, at Lamb’s invitation, Walton rejoined the field hockey team as a volunteer assistant coach. NCAA regulations allow each program to have one unpaid assistant coach.
“As a coach she led by example, training hard to get better, yet the obstacles she faced were greater than most of us can even imagine,” forward Suzanne Anthony ’03 said. “She wrote letters to the team about working hard and never giving up, no matter what the situation, which meant a lot to me as her former teammate.”
Each week this fall, after four days of therapy near her family’s Massachusetts home, Walton came to New Haven for Friday afternoon practices and weekend games, offering support to players and coaches. After each field hockey game, Lamb supplemented Walton’s therapy schedule with a walk.
“While she was going through so much, she always was thinking about the team and trying to keep our spirits up when the season was not going so well,” Anthony said.
The NCAA Honors Committee annually gives the Inspiration Award to someone involved in intercollegiate athletics who “when confronted with a life-altering situation, used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome the event, and now serves as a role model to give hope and inspiration to others in similar situations.”
“Amanda Walton is the most incredible athlete I have ever played with,” Anthony said. “Her great athletic ability was able to shine because of her unending desire and dedication to be the best. This has only proven more true since her accident, yet now instead of competing on the field she is striving to walk again.”
The other recipients of this year’s Inspiration Award are Florida State football player Todd Williams and Loyola College of Maryland head women’s lacrosse coach Diane Geppi-Aikens.
Walton also received the Yale Athletics Department’s inaugural Amanda D. Walton Award, to be presented to an outstanding athlete who has excelled on the field of play and who has shown spirit and courage in transcending unforeseen challenges.
“As is the case with Amanda [Walton], she impacted the 1,500 or so people attending the event and as always, makes everyone walk away with a better appreciation for what athletics teaches us in the game of life,” Lamb said. “If anyone can inspire you to be a better person in all areas of your life, it is Amanda Walton.”