The Discover Orange Bowl-Football Writers Association of America Courage Award was conceived as a way to honor football players. But the FWAA decided to make an exception in naming the award's nominee this week -- and it's easy to see why they did.
The FWAA announced Wednesday that its third nominee for this season is Arkansas cheerleader Patience Beard, a full member of the Razorback freshman cheer squad despite having her left leg amputated as an infant due to a bone growth disorder. Nicknamed "the girl with the zebra leg" due to the unusual design of her prosthetic leg, the Texarkana, Texas, native has been cheering since middle school.
She joins previous 2012 nominees Daniel Rodriguez of Clemson, an Army veteran wounded in Afghanistan, and Angelo Richardson of Arizona State, the victim of a 2006 shooting that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
The full statement issued by the FWAA concerning Beard's nomination:
Arkansas' Patience Beard is the weekly nominee for the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award, to be announced at the end of the season. Beard, a freshman from Texarkana, Texas, made the Razorbacks' cheerleading squad despite a prosthetic left leg.
Beard is already becoming known as “the girl with the zebra leg,” a reference to the special design of the prosthetic she wears. She was born with a proximal femoral focal deficiency, which affects bone growth. At age 9 months, her left leg was amputated, but it barely slowed her down. She participated in gymnastics as a child, took up cheerleading in middle school and was homecoming queen last year at Texas High School. But even she was surprised to make the 12-member freshman squad at an FBS-level school.
“I've always dreamed of this,” Beard said, “but never thought I'd be here doing what I've always wanted to do. I can't even put into words how exciting and amazing this year has been already.”
Arkansas cheerleading/spirit coordinator Jean Nail said Beard is able to perform all of the required stunts and routines.
“She's the kind of person we want,” Arkansas cheerleading/spirit coordinator Jean Nail told Yahoo! Sports. “She's a good role model. And she's absolutely qualified.” And Nail adds: “Sometimes when you see Patience, it just gives you that little extra edge you need to try one more time.”
Beard credits her parents with “giving me my drive” and never allowing her to have excuses.
“I'd just hope everyone … would know they can do whatever they put their mind to,” she said.
For the seventh straight year, the Football Writers Association of America and the Discover Orange Bowl will announce a weekly nominee each Wednesday during the season. A blue-ribbon panel will determine the winner from all of the nominees. The winner of the Discover Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award will be announced in December and be presented with the trophy during the week of the 2013 Discover BCS National Championship Game.
The Courage Award was created by ESPN The Magazine's senior writer Gene Wojciechowski, also an FWAA member. A select group of writers from the FWAA vote on the winner each year. The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship.
Previous winners of the FWAA's Courage Award are Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr. (2011), Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (2010), the University of Connecticut football team (2009), Tulsa's Wilson Holloway (2008), Navy's Zerbin Singleton (2007), Clemson's Ray Ray McElrathbey (2006), the Tulane football team (2005), Memphis' Haracio Colen (2004), San Jose State's Neil Parry (2003) and Toledo's William Bratton (2002).
Photos courtesy FWAA and by Nelson Chenault, US Presswire