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Who Should You Vote For As Female Paralympic Athlete Of The Year?

By Karen Price | Oct. 21, 2019, 1:46 p.m. (ET)


The five nominees for Female Paralympic Athlete of the Year have won a combined 13 Paralympic medals despite the fact that one is looking to make her debut at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.

They include multi-season athletes, multi-sport athletes and world champions, but which one deserves to be crowned No. 1 in the 2019 Team USA Awards presented by Dow, Best of the Year, is partly in the hands of the fans.

Will it be Kendall Gretsch, Oksana Masters, Allysa Seely, Leanne Smith or Deja Young?

Online fan voting accounts for 50 percent of the vote and closes at end of day on Monday, Oct. 28. The other 50 percent of the vote comes from members of the Olympic and Paralympic community. Award winners will be announced during a ceremony held on Nov. 19 at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. NBC will provide coverage of the awards show from 3-4 p.m. ET on Dec. 22.

Download the Team USA app today to keep up with all your favorite sports, plus access to videos, Olympic and Paralympic team bios, and more.

Vote now at TeamUSA.org/Awards. Here is a closer look at the five nominees.


Kendall Gretsch


Sport: Para Nordic skiing and paratriathlon

Hometown: Downers Grove, Illinois

Age: 27

What She Did: Won one gold, four silver and one bronze medal at the Nordic skiing world championships and won the overall world cup biathlon globe during the winter. Then this summer she took silver in the women’s PTS1 division at the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships.

Why It Mattered: Gretsch was a surprise gold medalist in biathlon and cross-country skiing in PyeongChang in 2018 as a newcomer to Nordic competition, but her six medals at the world championships proved her success was no fluke. Her continued strong performances in paratriathlon have her well-positioned heading into Tokyo, where her classification will be contested in the sport for the first time.

Fun Fact: Perhaps it’s no surprise that Gretsch did so well so quickly in Nordic skiing. Although she swam as a kid, she didn’t get involved in adaptive sports until after her sophomore year in college. She raced paratriathlon for the first time just after graduation and that same year was named Female Paratriathlete of the Year after winning the national title and the world championship.

What’s Next: Gretsch will continue competing in Nordic skiing this winter as she prepares to make her paratriathlon debut in 2020 in Tokyo.


Oksana Masters


Sport: Para Nordic skiing and Para-cycling

Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky

Age: 30

What She Did: Won five gold medals and six altogether at the Nordic skiing world championships as well as the overall world cup cross-country globe in the women’s sitting class and finished second in the overall world cup biathlon standings. Switching over to cycling in the summer, she won silver medals in the H5 road race and time trial at the UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships.

Why It Mattered: She had her second of two elbow surgeries since PyeongChang at the end of August, and just over five months later she was on her way to the world championships. And while her six world championship medals in Nordic skiing gave her 19 total, her two cycling medals were only her second and third in the sport.

Fun Fact: Masters’ Paralympic career started in rowing. Although she doesn’t compete in the sport anymore, her first Paralympic medal was bronze in rowing along with teammate Rob Jones in 2012. It was the first Paralympic medal ever for the United States in trunk and arms mixed double sculls.

What’s Next: Like Gretsch, Masters will also continue her winter sports competition before transitioning back to cycling for Tokyo, where she will seek her first Paralympic medal in that sport.


Allysa Seely


Sport: Paratriathlon

Hometown: Glendale, Arizona

Age: 30

What She Did: After going undefeated in 2018 and winning USA Triathlon Female Paratriathlete of the Year, Seely won her sixth World Paratriathlon Series victory in a row in Yokohama, Japan, in May and her seventh in Montreal, Quebec, in July. She then won silver in the PTS2 division at the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships. 

Why It Mattered: In addition to going unbeaten in competition for over a year, this was Seely’s fifth year in a row finishing on the podium at the world championships. The defending Paralympic gold medalist showed she’s ready to make it two in a row in 2020.

Fun Fact: Seely was recently named one of five grand marshals for the Fiesta Bowl parade in Phoenix. She joins Olympic basketball star Diana Taurasi, women’s national soccer team members Julie Ertz and Jessica McDonald and Special Olympics golfer Amy Bockerstette with the honors.

What’s Next: The world championships marked the end of the ITU paratriathlon season, and Seely will continue with competition in the spring. A top result at a to-be-determined event between February and June of 2020 will likely help secure her spot in Tokyo.


Leanne Smith


Sport: Para swimming

Hometown: Salem, Massachusetts

Age: 31

What She Did: In her second appearance at the world championships, Smith won the first world title of her career in the women’s 150-meter individual medley despite swimming up a class from SM3 to SM4 (2:56.49), and set a Pan American and world championship record in the process. She added another two gold medals and set two more Pan American records with titles in the women’s 50-meter breaststroke SB3 (57.24) and 100 freestyle S3 (1:36.49). She also captured three medals at the world series event in Glasgow, Scotland, and won all five national titles.

Why It Mattered: Smith hopes to make her Paralympic debut in 2020, and as a three-time world champion that dream should not only become reality but might also end with even more medals.

Fun Fact: In 2015, Smith was named to the U.S. women’s sled hockey developmental team.

What’s Next: The National Para Swimming Championships will take place Dec. 6-8 in Lewisville, Texas.


Deja Young


Sport: Para track and field

Hometown: Mesquite, Texas

Age: 23

What She Did: The two-time Paralympic gold medalist won two grand prix events and three gold medals at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 (100-meter, 200-meter and universal 4x100-meter) to secure the No. 1 ranking in the world in the T47 100- and 200-meter events.

Why It Mattered: Young may be a Paralympic champ, but this was her first time at the Parapans. Her time of 12.04 seconds in the 100-meter was only .04 seconds shy of the world record.

Fun Fact: Young served as an athlete mentor as part of the Sports Envoy Program of the U.S. State Department to Nigeria in 2018.

What’s Next: In November, Young will aim to defend her 100 and 200 titles at the world championships and look to win the 100 for the third time.


Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic & Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Kendall Gretsch

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