Driscoll Receives Scharper Award

Jean Driscoll and Sharon Hedrick

2017 Harold Scharper Award recipient Jean Driscoll (L) poses with one of her inspirations, Olympic and Paralympic gold medalist Sharon Hedrick.

Award-winning athlete and motivational speaker Jean Driscoll received the 2017 Harold Scharper Award from the College of Applied Health Sciences’ Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services in an event held on October 27. Named in honor and memory of a WWII veteran who in 1948 was the first student with a disability to attend the University of Illinois, the award recognizes the achievements and humanitarian service of someone who received support from the college’s Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services while pursuing a degree at the university.
Born with spina bifida, Ms. Driscoll walked with the aid of heavy braces until an accident at the age of 14 made her continued mobility reliant on a wheelchair. Her competitive spirit developed early as one of five siblings, but her experience with organized sports was negligible until she was introduced to wheelchair sports programs in high school. She thrived in sports such as wheelchair soccer. It was after a soccer game that Brad Hedrick, then the supervisor of the recreation and athletics program for students with disabilities at the University of Illinois, invited Ms. Driscoll to join the wheelchair basketball team at Illinois.

Ms. Driscoll was the first person to win the Boston Marathon eight times. She held the world’s record in the women’s wheelchair division at Boston for 21 years and established new world records in each of her first five wins. She also won two Olympic and 12 Paralympic medals as a member of Team USA and still holds the world record for the 10,000 meter track event. She has been recognized by Sports Illustrated for Women as one of the top 25 female athletes of the 20th century. In 2012, she was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
After retiring from competition in 2000, Ms. Driscoll shared the sport of wheelchair track with athletes and coaches in Ghana in West Africa. Working with Joni and Friends, Inc., and five Rotary Clubs, she brought eight athletes and two coaches to the United States for training. Largely because of her efforts, Ghana was able to send its first two athletes to the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece, and has subsequently sent teams to compete in Beijing, London, and Rio de Janeiro.
In addition to the Olympic Hall of Fame, Ms. Driscoll has been honored by the State of Illinois with its highest award, the Order of Lincoln, and has received honorary degrees from the University of Rhode Island and the Massachusetts School of Law.
In accepting her award, Ms. Driscoll credited her success to the people who helped her throughout her life. “I am not a self-made woman,” she said. “Like most people, I’m a product of the individuals who have played a role in my life. Relationships are important to our ability to grow and succeed.”