Alex Shibutani is a two-time Olympic ice dancer who competes with his sister Maia. The Shibutanis are three-time world championships medalists, four-time Four Continents medalists, two-time U.S. champions and 17-time grand prix medalists. Maia and Alex won two bronze medals at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 and have been writing about their 2018 Olympic journey for TeamUSA.org.
Earlier this week, Maia and I were in New York City to attend the AAU James E. Sullivan Awards, which have been presented annually since 1930 to the “most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States.”
Named for its founder and past president, James E. Sullivan, votes from fans, AAU officials, United States Olympic Committee members and college sports officials are tallied to determine the winner of the award, which is based on the qualities of leadership, character, sportsmanship and the ideals of amateurism.
We’re so grateful to everyone who voted for us in the open fan-vote and we were honored to be a part of such an amazing class of finalists. This year’s finalists included Joel Berry II, a basketball player at the University of North Carolina, Erin Finn, a University of Michigan track and field athlete, Kelley Hunter and Annika Albrecht, both volleyball players at the University of Nebraska, Annie Peavy, a Paralympic equestrian, and Kyle Snyder, an Olympic wrestler from Ohio State University.
After performing at the Stars on Ice show in Portland, Maine, on Sunday, Maia and I were supposed to fly into New York City early Monday morning to spend the day with the other finalists. However, heavy storms in the northeast prevented us from doing so when all flights from Boston were canceled. Instead, we flew into the city the following day, and together with the other finalists visited the Ronald McDonald House and learned more about the important work the organization does to keep families with sick children together, and close to the care and services they require.
After spending the day with the other finalists, both Maia and I were struck by the unique opportunity we had to spend time with athletes from a wide range of sports, all of whom have pursued excellence in their fields. What brought us together was the discipline, determination, drive and commitment it takes to excel both on the field of play and off.
The evening’s festivities were hosted by an Olympic legend – American track and field athlete Carl Lewis, who spoke about his early years of training and his family, and also injected humor into the presentation as he spoke with each finalist individually. As we neared the announcement of the winner, I knew that everyone seated on the stage around us was deserving of the accolade.
This year’s winner, Kyle Snyder, is an Olympic champion, and two-time world champion who continues to take the wrestling world by storm. During the time that we spent with him, we know that while he is a fierce competitor on the mat, he is also a genuinely nice guy. After the ceremony concluded, all of us gathered together for photos and said our goodbyes. Maia and I will be rooting for our fellow finalists in their future pursuits – in sport and beyond.
Sport has given us the opportunity to travel, develop friendships with people from varied backgrounds, and perform for and hopefully inspire people all around the world. It has enriched our lives. The valuable lessons we have learned through our experiences have shaped who Maia and I are as people. The qualities that we all learn through our participation in sport – leadership, character, sportsmanship – go far beyond the field of play. The AAU’s belief in “sport for all, forever” is a powerful and important message. They understand that by supporting amateur athletes, they are supporting the future. With the organizations that we support, Maia and I hope to continue to make sport available to all young people and encourage them to dream big.