Trajan Langdon Award: For Leadership, Sportsmanship and Inspiration
For a person or group of people who have demonstrated leadership, integrity and sportsmanship during the past year and positively influenced and inspired others to be better sportsmen or sportswomen.
Aniteye, of Eagle River, ran to an NCAA Division II track championship after a two-year break from racing. Motherhood put her stellar career on hold – she was a six-time All-American during three years at UAA – and Aniteye initially feared her racing days were over. She ultimately decided to attempt a comeback, and worked independently for more than a year to regain her fitness and form before landing at Seattle Pacific. Nearly three years after Aniteye and her husband welcomed their son, she won the 800 finals at the national championships with a personal-best time of 2:06.84. She finished her career as a nine-time All-American and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s female athlete of the year for track.
Halvorsen, of Anchorage was a feel-good story at the 2022 Olympics as a Nordic skiing sprinter two years after sustaining life-threatening injuries upon being struck by a car in downtown Anchorage. At age 21, she suffered a traumatic brain injury and many broken bones and was nearly paralyzed. Halvorsen had to learn to walk again. It was nearly a year before she could ski again and several months more before she began racing again. Through her recovery, she never let go of the dream she’d held since she was 12-years-old: to ski in the Olympics.
The Executive Director of the Alaska School Activities Association, Strickland had to make many difficult and impactful decisions for Alaskan student-athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to his nomination, Strickland “has worked tirelessly to put kids in a position to participate with safety at its utmost importance, yet finding a way to put kids back on the court or field! He does this ‘with a smile on his face and a song in his heart’ knowing how important sports are to the individual athlete and how important mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is to all Alaska.”
Hale, of Palmer, became the first double-leg amputee ever to participate in the Iron Dog race. No amputee had ever competed in the Iron Dog — much less a double amputee without prosthetics. He made history with his brother Joseph. They were the first-place team in the recreational class of the 1,000-plus mile snowmachine race.
Andy Beardsley & Larsen Klingel
Andy Beardsley pushed his friend Larsen Klingel in a wheelchair through rain, wind and cold at the 2018 Boston Marathon. Klingel has cerebral palsy. The pair became friends in elementary school in Anchorage and graduated from East High School together in 1982. Although Beardsley had moved to Virginia and Klingel to Homer, they stayed in touch over the years and discussed doing a marathon together. The friends finished in 3 hours, 40 minutes to rank in the top half of the field of more than 25,000 participants.
Hale overcame incredible adversity to find success in basketball and the classroom. She earned All-America honors as a sophomore and junior [and is playing like a national player of the year as a senior] for NAIA Central Methodist University, where she recently became the first women’s player in school history to eclipse 2,000 career points. As a high school student in Anchorage, Hale and her siblings were homeless and not going to school before being taken in by a foster family in Wasilla. She is now on the Dean’s List at CMU and has shown a passion for social activism. “Her teammates absolutely love her. Her work ethic in the classroom and on the court is second to none,” her coach Gregory Ray said. “Leadership has not always been her strong suit. Those that know her know how quiet she is and what her struggles have been.”
A native of Hydaburg and graduate of Ketchikan High School, Damen Bell-Holter played at Oral Roberts University before competing in the National Basketball Association’s Development League. He now plays professionally in Italy. Growing up, Bell-Holter was surrounded by poverty, drug abuse, partying, and other reckless behavior and now speaks to youth about suicide prevention, substance abuse, and other issues. A member of the Haida Nation, Bell-Holter returns to Alaska every summer and mentors children through his Blessed 2 Bless basketball camp, which is steered by the mission to “give back to youth through the game of basketball.”
Laci Effenberger, the former Ketchikan High School basketball star, overcame a devastating string of injuries to play a key role on the NCAA Division II Cal State East Bay women’s basketball team. Armed with toughness and resiliency, the 24-year-old came back from seven knee surgeries to start for the Pioneers and break the team single-season record for three pointers made (96) and game-record for 3-pointers made (7) for conference champion CSEB. “I’m lucky to be here,” she said. “I enjoy playing with people that have passion for the game, and I’m thankful my teammates do.”
Nobody has made second-place look so good. Known for her trademark smile, this 45-year-old Iditarod musher is as gracious as she is good. Aliy Zirkle puts her dogs first, always praises the competition and never makes excuses. Zirkle showed tremendous character when she finished the 1,100-mile race in second for the third consecutive year. And she did it with a smile. Zirkle nearly chased down eventual winner Dallas Seavey at the final checkpoint during a brutal storm, losing by a mere 2. minutes in one of the most dramatic finishes in the race’s 40-year history.
Marko Cheseto inspired many through his record-setting performances as a runner for the University of Alaska Anchorage. But the Kenyan inspired even more people by what he’s done after disappearing into the winter woods for 55 hours in late-2011, an ordeal that resulted in the amputation of both his feet. Thrust into the limelight, he thereafter worked to overcome depression and spoke openly about the topic. Cheseto earned a degree in nutrition, entered graduate school and became a graduate assistant coach for the UAA cross country team. Wearing special prostheses, he also returned to running competitions and aspires to compete in the 2016 Paralympics.
As a sophomore at West Anchorage High School, Paul Tandy decided to join the wrestling team during the 2011-12 school year despite the challenge of being blind. A 4.0 student in the classroom, Tandy progressed quickly from novice to a respected competitor, ultimately winning five matches during his first season. He earned the respect and admiration of his teammates for his work ethic, positive attitude and courage.
Chugiak High School Football Team
The 2011 Chugiak High Football Team was on the verge of qualifying for the State Championship Playoffs when a school district error was discovered that resulted in a player being declared ineligible. The result was a forfeit of all their games to date and elimination from the possibility of being in the playoffs, a heartbreaking decision for the team. The team brought pride to their community as they embraced the player and presented their case to the school board with Clarity, Dignity and Sportsmanship, eventually losing the appeal.
Geremu Dagget and Colton Merriner
The Grace Christian runners entered the stadium together, poised to crack the top-15 and help their team win the Alaska cross country championships. Pushing himself to the brink, Merriner’s legs began to fail. Daggett slowed and shouted encouragement before Merriner stumbled a few meters from the finish, began crawling, then completely collapsed. Instead of crossing the finish line, the senior Daggett retreated and pulled his sophomore teammate over the finish line, getting passed by two other runners in the process. Merriner was disqualified for not finishing under his own power. Daggett said later that helping his teammate was more important than a race result. Merriner said Daggett showed him what an upperclassman teammate should look like.