By Katherine Keel | Oct. 12, 2013, 11 a.m. (ET)
Former U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice presents the keynote speech at the 2013 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Assembly Awards Gala on Oct. 11, 2013 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Dr. Evie Dennis accepts the Olympic Torch Award at the
2013 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Assembly on Oct. 11, 2013 in
Colorado Springs, Colo.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – At the 2013 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Assembly Awards Gala Friday night, Dr. Evie Dennis received the U.S. Olympic Committee’s highest honor — the Olympic Torch Award — for the second time in her life.

“Nothing will get in my way,” said Dr. Dennis. “Not bombs, rules or school superintendents. If you can’t change it, find a way around it.”

And throughout her life, Dr. Dennis did just that.

Throughout her storied career, Dr. Dennis became a beacon for change and her impact within the Olympic Movement cannot be understated.

It seems she had a hand in everything from advocating for equal educational opportunities in schools to being elected as the first female and minority president of the Amateur Athletic Union. Dr. Dennis also served as the vice president for the USOC and as Chef de Mission for two Pan-American Games teams as well as the 1988 Olympic Games.

Hosted by NBC sportscaster and three-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Rowdy Gaines, the awards gala concluded this year’s event, themed the “Power of Sport.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice served as the keynote speaker for the evening and delivered a speech underlining the true impact sports have both domestically and internationally.

“The power of what sport can do… it’s one in which our world becomes a place where we can honor our differences, but celebrate our similarities — to me that is the true power of the Olympic spirit; that’s the real reason we are inspired,” said Dr. Rice. “I have seen the power of sport overcome divides and heal differences.”

Three-time Olympic gold medalist basketball player Tamika Catchings
accepts the Rings of Gold award at the 2013 U.S. Olympic and
Paralympic Assembly on Oct. 11, 2013 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

WNBA power forward Tamika Catchings capitalized on the ability of sport to heal differences. In 2004, Catchings founded the Catch the Stars Foundation in an effort to use sport as a vehicle to unify and encourage disadvantaged youth across the country. The foundation aims to provide support by way of encouraging fitness, goal-setting and education, among other factors.

Catchings was honored as the Rings of Gold award individual recipient. The award honors an individual who had made a remarkable contribution to the Olympic movement by encouraging youth to reach their dreams, whether personally, athletically or educationally.

“My goal was always to be an Olympian, and when I think about those people who stepped in to help me in my life and my basketball career I want to do the same for these kids,” Catchings said.

The Rings of Gold award program recipient was the Lakeshore Foundation, an organization that offers disabled youth a chance to succeed in sports. Founded in Birmingham, Ala. in 1973, the Lakeshore Foundation provides the necessary tools and framework for success, and fully embodies the ideals of the Paralympic movement — courage, determination and equality.

“We like to focus on the power of sport as extended to the Paralympic athlete or hopeful,” said Lakeshore Foundation President Jeff Underwood. “We work with wounded warriors and disabled youth every day, and use adaptive sport and engagement to help them enjoy life again.”

Along with those new opportunities in sport comes a responsibility to be respectful and always maintain good sportsmanship. The Jack Kelly Fair Play Award presented by BP, in memory of the late USOC president and Olympic rowing medalist, recognizes sportsmanship and fair play in a competition.

This year’s recipient of the award is U.S. Olympic Women’s Water Polo Team head coach Adam Krikorian, who showed exemplary sportsmanship and composure during the semifinal match against Australia at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

At a crucial point in the game, Krikorian called a time out after falsely believing American goalkeeper Betsey Armstrong had possession of the ball, and as a result, the Australian team was awarded a penalty shot. Australia tied the game after scoring on the penalty shot, and the U.S. team began to doubt their chance for gold.

Instead of crumbling and blaming anyone but himself, Krikorian owned up to his mistake without hesitation, and the U.S. still went on to defeat Australia in a hard-fought overtime victory, and officially qualified for the championships. The U.S. women continued on their streak of success, winning gold and returning home as victors.

“As a coach, you realize the influence you have on the athletes and the chance you have to impact a team, a country, maybe even the world,” Krikorian said. “That’s what sport is all about.”

Dr. Rice echoed Krikorian’s thoughts during her speech.

“It doesn't matter where you came from; it matters where you are going,” she said. “When you look at our American Olympic team, we represent that hope, that change. In a time where difference is still a license to kill, what an incredible sight we are, for the world will know we are a reason to celebrate.”

Katherine Keel is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org.

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