Lisa Kauffman is a dual major (radio television; political science) in the College of Sciences and expects to graduate in December 2016. She is this year’s recipient of the Sonja Rose Nicholson Endowed Scholarship and the Margaret Gerow/Daniel J. May Communications Scholarship. She currently interns within the Orange County Government Communications Division and hopes to pursue a career in the field.
“I began my journey at UCF as an 18-year-old freshman. I was a pretty naïve kid who didn’t know what I wanted to study or what I wanted to do. I didn’t know what I was good at, and I wasn’t really confident in myself or my abilities. But I was excited to learn and I was ready for the adventure.
“It was a few years ago when I applied for scholarships through the College of Sciences. I remember the day when I was notified I received my first scholarship very clearly. It was one of the last days of final exams. I had just finished a three-hour exam and I was exhausted. I had way more caffeine than sleep in me at this point. I had my last exam just 30 minutes after this final was completed. I was dreading it. I was on my way to the exam and I decided to check my email. I opened it up and saw I was awarded a scholarship. I was elated. Suddenly all of my exhaustion lifted out of me, and I was motivated to ace that exam and finish the semester strong. That motivation, that inspiration didn’t leave me when I completed that exam. It didn’t leave me the next day or months. It stayed with me for years.
“Knowing that someone read over your degree audit and saw how hard you worked in your classes, or saw your resume or read about your passions and goals in the essay you wrote when you applied, and said, ‘This student has potential. I’m going to invest in this student,’ — that is one of the most inspiring and motivational moments for a student. By recognizing our potential, you’re helping us recognize the potential within ourselves. You give us motivation and the confidence in our abilities to pursue our passion.
“Through my past internships, campus involvement and confidence in my abilities, I am leaving UCF knowing the path I want to pursue. For me, my passion is political and government media and communications. I am currently interning at Orange County Government in the Communications Division. I know my journey wouldn’t have been the same if it wasn’t for my donors and the incredible support and inspiration they provided me with. As I said, I started college as a naïve freshman who was unsure of myself. I am leaving college as someone who recognizes my own potential and who is confident in my passion and my abilities. I will never lose that excitement to learn. I love UCF. I love going here. So thank you, donors. Thank you for investing in us and helping us recognize our own potential. I truly hope and plan to one day be in your seats and help students see their own potential.”
1. A former UCF SGA president and his longtime friend are garnering well-deserved attention with their free mobile showering service for the homeless in Palm Beach County, Florida. Chris Bentley graduated in in 2006 with a bachelor’s in legal studies and was living in New York City when he and Carlos Miller decided to start their non-profit, Live Fresh Palm Beach County. People Magazine recently featured the dynamic duo’s feel-good story.
2. The College of Sciences Distinguished Speaker Series begins this week with Wednesday’s “Evolution and the Significance of the Hobbits.” The series, which runs through April, brings renowned speakers from UCF and across the country to enrich the Central Florida community. All talks will be held at the Tuscawilla Country Club. For more information and to RSVP, visit: www.sciences.ucf.edu/dss.
3. Before UCF Football dominated FIU on Saturday, a special moment took place on the field for one UCF alumna and her family. Saturday’s game was the annual Coach to Cure MD game – an initiative that UCF has participated in every year since it began in 2008. Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a progressive muscle disorder that causes loss of muscle function and independence with a lifetime expectancy that usually falls short of one’s 30s. Alumna Colleen Labbadia is the mother of Brendan, who was diagnosed with the disorder four years ago. The family drove down to Miami so Brendan could help in the coin toss and bring more awareness to the cause. Colleen Labbadia had this to say about the experience:
“Our family remains hopefully optimistic that through programs such as Coach to Cure MD, boys like Brendan will see a brighter and better future! Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for helping us achieve that goal and for providing us with such an uplifting day full of special moments. We appreciate the entire team working alongside us to raise awareness for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. UCF Football will always hold a special place in our hearts.”
4. UCF will celebrate World Heart Day this Thursday with a series of hands-only CPR trainings that aim to teach more than 1,000 members of the community quick, basic emergency response. Free training sessions will start every few minutes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Pegasus Ballroom inside the Student Union.
5. The UCF and USF athletic departments announced the official establishment of the War On I-4 rivalry series. The Knights and Bulls will compete for year-long bragging rights with the winners in each of 14 sports scoring toward a final tally for each program. The winning university will take possession of a large trophy shaped like the iconic I-4 road sign.
ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 22, 2016) – Chris Johncke, ’08, founder and CEO of iFixYouri, attributes his success in life to the laws of attraction: If you exude positivity, positivity you shall receive.
It’s how the UCF alumnus credits building his company from a Craigslist ad to a 15-store-and-counting enterprise – one that has grown so much it is now the official device repair shop of the Boston Red Sox.
“Who would think that fixing phones would get you tied in doing business with the Red Sox?” Johncke said. “It’s an honor and a testament to hard work. If you put forth hard work, you’re going to get great results. If you’re going to put out positive energy, positive things are going to come back to you.”
Johncke did not set out to create a burgeoning technology business. iFixYouri is a result of a Plan B.
After graduating from UCF with a bachelor’s degree in engineering technology, Johncke started working for a tech company in Lake Mary. When the economy dipped, Johncke was laid off.
The South Florida native moved back to the Palm Beach area and lived with his sister Michelle while he job hunted. To supplement his unemployment checks, he advertised computer repair on Craigslist.
He stumbled into the phone repair business out of necessity. When his own cell phone screen shattered, he figured out how to fix it on his own to save himself Apple’s repair fee.
When his friend asked him to fix her phone, too, Johncke updated his Craigslist ad and started driving around Palm Beach to work on customers’ devices with supplies he stashed in the trunk of his car.
“I always had an entrepreneur’s mindset. I always wanted to own my own business,” Johncke said. “You never know how things are going to pan out, but if you tell yourself something enough, you eventually figure out your path.”
Johncke’s business has now blossomed to more than a dozen stores and a mail-in center in the Palm Beach, Central Florida and Boston-area regions. With half of their stores in Central Florida, including one across from UCF’s main campus, they currently employ roughly a dozen UCF alumni or students in addition to students from Valencia College and Seminole State College.
“We pride ourselves in being a business that’s been founded by Knights,” he said.
His sister, Michelle Zausnig, ’03, an advertising/public relations alumna, joined the team in 2011. She described a feeling of similarity in iFixYouri’s growth with that of UCF’s rise in notoriety.
“When I started, nobody really knew who UCF was. Over the years, UCF became such a big thing,” she said. “It’s the same thing when I talk about the company we have here. Chris started from the back of his car and … it’s been nonstop, explosive growth throughout the years. It carries that same sense of pride that I had seeing UCF grow so much.”
Johncke and his team are loyal to their roots. It’s important to them that the company maintains a close-knit feel within the local community.
That’s why Johncke whole heartedly agreed to have a Pulse tribute mural painted on the side of the Mills 50 District store on the corner of Colonial Drive and Mills Avenue.
“I gave them free reign to put whatever on the building. [Artist Andrew Spear and Mills 50 executive director Joanne Grant] came up with a great concept, and the feedback from the community has been amazing,” he said. “Being that’s such a highly trafficked intersection in the Orlando area, it spreads a lot of care and love. It’s something for not only iFixYouri, but for everyone that lives in Orlando. It’s something they can be proud of.”
Johncke’s love for the city seems to go hand in hand with his feelings about his alma mater.
“What UCF gave to me was an education that was second-to-none. I was able to learn who I am and what I want to do,” he said. “Some of my best friends that I have to this day are UCF Knights. It wouldn’t have been possible to get on this track right now had it not been for all the resources that UCF was able to provide for me.”
1. The UCF community was introduced to IGNITE: The Campaign for the University of Central Florida on Sept. 16. IGNITE is the most ambitious fundraising effort in our history — an intense, focused and strategic effort to raise $500 million in philanthropic support by June 2019. More than 66,000 people have contributed donations of all sizes to reach approximately $275 million to date. Let’s keep it rolling!
2. UCF’s annual State of the Union address, delivered by President John C. Hitt, will take place on Tuesday at 3 p.m. For those unable to attend, viewing access will be available on Facebook at Facebook.com/ucf.
3. We love to see Knights helping Knights! A UCF alumnus, who has chosen to remain anonymous, challenged UCF to match his $1,000 commitment to fight hunger in support of Knights Pantry. The Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida is promoting a Skip-A-Meal-Challenge this month that encourages people to skip a meal, and instead, donate the money they would have spent. Knights Pantry is one of the food bank’s partners, so funds raised by UCF will benefit the pantry.
4. Limbitless Solutions visited the White House this week for the White House Design For All Showcase. The event is designed to highlight the ways that assistive technology breaks down barriers, reduces stigma and improves the quality of life for Americans with disabilities. We’re so proud of Albert Manero and his team at the College of Engineering and Computer Science!
5. UCF recently selected Hospital Corporation of America, the nation’s largest hospital company, as its partner to build a proposed teaching hospital next door to the College of Medicine in Lake Nona. Under the plan, HCA will pay all costs to build and operate the hospital; UCF will seek no state funds for the project. The two will share governance of the facility on a 50-50 basis.
By UCF Today
ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 16, 2016) — Before a crowd of nearly 600 top donors, the University of Central Florida celebrated the public launch of a $500 million fundraising campaign on Sept. 16 supporting students, faculty members and special projects such as UCF Downtown.
The IGNITE campaign, the largest in UCF’s history, started in 2011 and seeks to reach the $500 million milestone by June 2019. More than 66,000 people have contributed $274.3 million to date, with much of the support coming from the generous benefactors invited to Friday’s gala.
“It shows an outpouring of support for the university that’s really going to help move us forward in the years ahead,” President John C. Hitt said. “I want to thank each of the donors very sincerely from my heart of hearts for their generosity.”
Philanthropy is critical to the university’s vitality and impact in the community. Investments in students, faculty and game-changing projects lift Central Florida’s economy – in everything from hospitality to medicine – and transform lives and families across our region.
The IGNITE campaign supports three priorities:
- Student success, including scholarships, study abroad and career readiness
- Academic excellence, including efforts to recruit and retain top faculty members
- Special growth and opportunity projects
Gifts recognized at Friday’s gala include:
- A $7 million gift from Dr. Phillips Charities for UCF Downtown increases total community support for the campus to $21 million. This means UCF can now access the $20 million in state funding to construct a new academic building for about 7,700 UCF and Valencia College students.
- A $1 million gift from Jim Rosengren,’81, supports UCF RESTORES, a clinic directed by UCF psychology professor Deborah Beidel that successfully treats military veterans and active duty personnel with post-traumatic stress disorder – and provides that treatment for free. Rosengren is a disabled veteran who began his 23-year career as an Army medic, and his son served two tours in Iraq and returned home with PTSD.
- Hundreds of engineering students will be able to use industry-standard product design and manufacturing software thanks to a major in-kind grant from Siemens. The software, with a commercial value of $68 million, is used in more than 140,000 global companies involved in the design and manufacturing of sophisticated products for energy and power generation, automotive, aerospace, machinery and high-tech electronics.
- A $1 million gift from Glenn Hubbard, ’79, establishes the Kenneth White and James Xander Professorship in Economics. Hubbard is dean of the Columbia Business School, and he previously was an advisor to President George W. Bush and the Federal Reserve. He grew to love economics as a UCF student thanks to classes with White and Xander, two professors who inspired him.
- A $5 million gift from Gregory Elias, a Curacao-born lawyer and businessman, establishes the Gregory Elias Entertainment Management Program, a partnership between the Rosen College of Hospitality Management and College of Arts and Humanities
- A $1.5 million gift from John Euliano will help UCF expand and renovate the baseball stadium. A Winter Springs resident, Euliano has a family connection to UCF and a long-time love for baseball. The expansion will include a 300-seat premium club section that will include outdoor seating and an air-conditioned lounge.
The university also honored Orlando hotelier and philanthropist Harris Rosen for his lifetime of giving to UCF. In addition, Harris Corporation and Texas Instruments were recognized for their support for the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
The campaign chair is Rick Walsh, a 1977 graduate and former chair of the UCF Board of Trustees.
By College of Sciences Communications
ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 14, 2016) – There are diehard Knights, and then there are Carol Lawrence, ’71, and her husband, Jim, ’70.
Their lives are so entwined with UCF that John T. Washington, UCF’s first African-American faculty member and for whom a campus building is named after, officiated their wedding in 1972.
Carol and her husband have remained active with UCF as philanthropists and proud Knight fans over the last four decades. In early August, the Lawrences established the Jim and Carol Lawrence Funds, making a generous donation to UCF.
“UCF is the reason we have been married almost 44 years so we wanted to acknowledge its contribution to our relationship,” Carol said. “Also, because we benefited greatly from our FTU educations, we felt it would be appropriate to give back to UCF by leaving it a portion of our estate.”
These funds will support departments, clubs and organizations across the university for which Jim and Carol maintain a passionate advocacy. Seventy percent of the gift will support six different academic departments and initiatives, with half of their gift allocated to the Department of Psychology and the Department of Political Science – Jim’s and Carol’s majors, respectively.
The fund will also create an endowed fund in sociology, coastal research, public administration and Africana studies. This support will be used for scholarships, resources, faculty salaries and grants. In addition, the funds will provide operational support for the UCF Equestrian Club and UCF Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving.
As unwavering Knight Fans, the Lawrences also designated 25 percent of the fund to support UCF Athletics to establish student-athlete scholarships.
Due in part to her continued partnership with UCF, her accomplishments as a professional and her extensive community engagement, Carol was honored by the College of Sciences this year with the Outstanding AlumKnight award.
“I am honored to count Carol Lawrence as our AlumKnight,” said Kerstin Hamann, Ph.D., Pegasus Professor and chair of the Department of Political Science. “Carol embodies UCF values through her professional success, community involvement, and her enduring dedication to UCF. She is a wonderful role model for our students and we are delighted to present her the award.”
The Lawrences attended UCF when it was still Florida Technological University, just a few years after FTU welcomed its inaugural class.
Jim graduated in 1970 with his undergraduate degree in psychology before earning his master’s degree in psychology from Middle Tennessee State University and doctoral degree in psychology and child development from the University of Kansas.
Carol graduated with her undergraduate degree in political science/public administration in 1971.
“That graduating class was so small, maybe 400 or less,” Carol recalled. “The graduation ceremony was held off campus.”
After graduating from UCF, Carol earned her master’s degree in public administration from Florida Atlantic University and went on to work as a research associate at the FAU-FIU Joint Center for Environmental and Urban Problems. There, she worked with the late Dr. John M. DeGrove, the architect of Florida’s 1985 landmark growth management legislation.
Carol left the center in 1976 to work as a budget analyst and lobbyist for the Miami-Dade County State Legislature. The couple moved back to central Florida in 1980 where both found success as licensed real estate brokers. They remain active brokers of their 32-year old RE/MAX office.
However, after more than 25 years since leaving UCF, Carol decided in 1998 that being owner and manager of a company wasn’t her only end goal and enrolled in the University of Orlando School Of Law, now known as Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law.
“I was 56 years old when I enrolled,” Lawrence said. “That’s an age when most people are contemplating retirement, and I set out to fulfill the dream of being an attorney that I had since I was 14 years old.”
Upon passing the exam in 2002, Lawrence was sworn in as a member of the Florida Bar. After years of working only for herself, she described the move to start her own law firm as a natural progression.
She opened her law firm in 2003 and a title insurance agency in 2006, both of which she still owns and operates today in addition to her role as an owner and broker of her and Jim’s RE/MAX franchise.
Although she now works up to 13 hours per day at three different jobs and volunteers for numerous community activities, Carol has no intention of giving up her dynamic life.
“When someone asks me why I haven’t retired, I have a go-to reply,” she said. “‘Retire? Why, I’m just getting started.’”
1. To Bennu and back! On Friday, the OSIRIS-REx launch could be seen from UCF’s campus — home of physics professor Humberto Campins and associate professor Yan Fernandez, who will have an active role in analyzing data of the seven-year mission. OSIRIS-REx is bound for Bennu and is scheduled to encounter the mountain-sized asteroid in 2018. It’s NASA’s first mission to return a sample of an asteroid to Earth. A successful mission will provide scientists enough material from the asteroid’s surface to better understand how planets formed and how life began in the solar system.
2. UCF Football is hosting Family Weekend at 7 p.m. on Sept. 17 against Maryland, one week after playing in front of the largest crowd in program history (109,295) at Michigan’s Big House. Saturday’s Indoor Tailgate will start at 4 p.m. and is free for all UCF alumni and their guests.
3. Everyone’s favorite bobbleheads have returned! The Knightro Bobblehead Series kicked off for the 2016-17 season with a football-themed Knightro donning a black uniform. There are several ways to start collecting the new set – those details can be found here.
4. The UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center hosted a GoBabyGo car-building event for 10 toddlers late last week. GoBabyGo is a national effort to provide children without the ability to walk, a way to get around. The organization retrofits motorized toy cars for children with special needs. Dozens of volunteers, including UCF alumni, helped at the event and capped the day by cheering on the child drivers in a race on Memory Mall.
5. Courtney Paulson, an alumna of UCF and The Burnett Honors College, will look to defend her title on “Jeopardy!” tonight, Sept. 12. The 2011 graduate won the quiz show at the end of its season on July 29 with a total prize of $11,700. Tune in locally on WFTV Channel 9 at 7 p.m. Good luck, Courtney!
By Jenna Marina
ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 9, 2016) — Ten, red Lightning McQueen cars lined up side by side at the edge of Memory Mall on Friday. Their drivers were all ready to push the go button on their steering wheels at the sound “start your engines.”
Ten children received motorized, child-sized cars at a build event sponsored by Orlando Health for GoBabyGo. GoBabyGo is a national effort to provide children without the ability to walk, a way to get around. The organization retrofits motorized toy cars for children with special needs.
Friday’s event took place inside the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center from 9 a.m. to noon before the kids took their wheels outside for a spin. Dr. Lindley Westervelt, a physical therapist at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, is a two-time alumna who graduated from UCF’s physical therapy doctoral program in 2011 and was on hand to lend assistance.
She helped put together and modify the cars in the same room that her graduate banquet was held in while she was a student. The cars were outfitted with pool noodles, swimming kick boards and other materials to ensure safety and stability for their drivers.
“I think it’s great to see the alumni working with different programs in the school, especially this,” she said. “I love the kids. I’ve been in pediatrics since I came out of school. I love being creative like this.”
UCF has been working with GoBabyGo creator, University of Delaware professor Cole Galloway, and his non-profit to offer the program to Central Florida. Dr. Jennifer Tucker is a pediatric specialist and physical therapy faculty member who oversees GoBabyGo at UCF.
Friday’s build event was the first of the new school year and more are scheduled to take place throughout the year. Tucker said hosting the event at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center seemed like a perfect fit.
“In looking at having a space, a place that really represents us, it just seemed to make the most sense, particularly with the Orlando Health partnership, that we would showcase it at the alumni center at the heart of the university,” Tucker said.
The recipients of the cars hailed from Orlando, Winter Garden, St. Cloud, Volusia, Daytona and Perry, Florida. The need is so high in in the Southeast that one family drove more than 450 miles from Bishop, Georgia, to be a part of the day.
Tucker said GoBabyGo has built approximately 40 cars since the program started at UCF in 2015, and she receives applications daily for children of all mobility levels.
For some children who are delayed in achieving mobility milestones, the cars give them a chance to go out and play until they develop their skills. For other children who will likely need wheelchairs in the future, the cars allow them to learn more about mobility and body movement without leg usage.
The volunteers and the children’s families capped the day by cheering and waving black-and-white checkered flags as the children cruised down Memory Mall. It symbolized the teamwork Tucker has witnessed and experienced since taking on the GoBabyGo program.
“This has been fast moving and gathered momentum on its own and just really tapped into a need that exists in the community. We’re excited to have the means to meet that need,” Tucker said. “We think it’s a great avenue for alumni (to get involved). You don’t have to be a health care professional to help them. You can be a business major and come and help build a car.”
By Jenna Marina
ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 8, 2016) – And the winner of this year’s Miss America competition is… hopefully a Knight.
This Sunday’s 96th installment of the annual pageant features two UCF alumnae.
Miss Florida Courtney Sexton, ’15, and Miss Missouri Erin O’Flaherty, ’15, are vying to become the latest Knight to claim the title of Miss America. Ericka Dunlap, ’05, was awarded the crown in 2004 and served on the UCF Alumni Board of Directors from June 2013 until mid-July 2016.
The competition will air live Sept. 11 from Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall at 9 p.m. on ABC.
O’Flaherty has made headlines nationwide via CNN, Good Morning America, the Huffington Post and People and Cosmopolitan magazines as the first openly gay Miss America contestant in the pageant’s nearly century-long history.
The 23-year-old legal studies alumna owns and operates Rachel’s Grove Boutique in Chesterfield, Missouri. A former Miss UCF, her pageant platform has always been suicide prevention, a topic of concern to her because she had a friend in high school who committed suicide. She opened up about the loss of her friend Joseph when she was a columnist for the UCF Forum opinion series in 2013.
— Miss Missouri (@MissAmericaMO) July 25, 2016
Sexton, 23, from Starke, received an $18,000 scholarship for claiming the title of Miss Florida in early July. Sexton earned her bachelor’s degree in health services administration in May 2015 and is pursuing a master’s degree in health services administration.
Sexton’s platform is Get up! Get moving! Volunteer!, which she describes as connecting others through a cause or organization they are passionate about.
According to MissAmerica.org, contestants contribute tens of thousands of community service hours annually and have raised more than $14 million for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and Miss America scholarships since 2007.
By Jenna Marina
ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 6, 2016) — When UCF alumnus Chris Seilkop, ’92, was named to his first Paralympics roster in 1996, his family was ecstatic.
As Seilkop gears up for his fourth Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this month – securing his place in history as Team USA’s first four-time, men’s sitting volleyball Paralympian – their enthusiasm has noticeably dropped off.
“I think they’re all kind of used to it, this being my fourth time. ‘Oh you’re going again, huh?’” he joked with a hearty laugh.
But he’s thrilled, coming back after eight years of retirement.
“I really have an internal desire to be the best I can be in whatever I do. It’s just a drive,” he said. “I can play sitting volleyball for many years and I know I can still get better. I want to get better. The game is fun again.”
Seilkop, a native Floridian, became an amputee at age 7 after an accident with a lawn mower that severely damaged his right leg below the knee. The youngest of five, Seilkop was not exempt from sibling competition.
“It was natural to get out there and play with them,” he said. “They would tackle me and knock me down just like they would anyone else.”
Seilkop’s older sister Sharon attended UCF, and the university appealed to him because of its proximity to his hometown. He needed to stay relatively close to his prosthetist in DeLand.
UCF was good to him. He met his future wife, Rhonda, during the spring break of his junior year. He also found his calling in a sport that would eventually take him around the world.
Although he identified as more of a basketball player, he competed in volleyball games organized by his fraternity, as well as intramurals.
“My knowledge or growth or love for the game really started at UCF,” he said.
While pursuing his degree in political science, he searched for a standing basketball program for disabled individuals, but found none. Wheelchair basketball didn’t appeal to him. Then, his friend showed him a magazine article about amputees playing volleyball.
“I wanted to compare my athletic ability as an amputee to other amputees. I never saw another amputee younger than 60 my entire life growing up in DeLand because they’re all retired,” Seilkop said.
Seilkop got in touch with the team, and the coach told Seilkop that he could try out if he traveled to their upcoming tournament in Atlanta. Seilkop did, jumping into the hitting line during warmups.
“I didn’t know until afterwards, when I talked to the setter, that he didn’t even know I was disabled because I had sweatpants on,” he recalled.
Seilkop traveled with the team’s B squad to Richmond, Virginia, for its next tournament. When the B team beat the A team, Seilkop found himself starting at middle blocker at the next tournament, which happened to be the U.S. Open.
“I couldn’t even really tell you how to rotate on the court or where the zones were to serve,” he said. “There I was starting at the U.S. Open and I remember thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’”
A year later he started for Team USA at the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta. The team came in fourth place, his closest shot so far at medaling.
Time and time again, what he enjoys most about the international competition is his interaction with the other athletes. His most memorable experience occurred with the Cambodian men’s sitting volleyball team at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia.
The Cambodians, many of them land mine victims, still sported wooden legs similar to what Seilkop wore in the 1980s. He said the athletes were fascinated by Team USA’s graphite, space-age artificial limbs and asked to hold the legs to get a closer look while in the Olympic village.
When they matched up during pool play, an undefeated and heavily favored Team USA easily advanced to the next round. There was a mix-up with post-match transportation, and the two teams ended up on the same bus. When Team USA boarded, the Cambodians started singing to them in their native language.
The Americans, not quite sure what to do, decided to reciprocate the gesture and sang the only song they could think of at the time: 99 Bottles of Beer. They stopped at number 95, and the Cambodians cheered.
“These guys were just so happy to be part of the games,” he said. “That’s something I’ll always carry with me – just that spirit.”
Seilkop, who now lives in Texas, would love to bring back a gold medal to his local YMCA, where he serves as CEO. He began his career with the organization at the Winter Park location in 1989, working in the fitness room and after school care program. When he graduated, he accepted a job as the fitness director in DeLand and eventually worked his way up over the next two decades landing in Victoria, Texas.
“I enjoyed the kids and the mission of the Y, what they do in the community and how they change lives and help people. All that seemed to fall into place for me. It wasn’t a job to me, it was something I enjoyed doing,” he said. “There are no normal days at the YMCA, and that’s what I love about it.”
He also does his fair share of representing the Black and Gold in a state that features two of UCF’s conference foes (Houston and SMU). He is just as happy to represent his country and Knight Nation once again at the Paralympics.
“I’m not at the same level of Phil Dalhausser. Trust me, don’t confuse me with him. He’s a lot better than I am,” said Seilkop, referring to fellow alumnus, three-time Olympian and the 2008 gold medalist beach volleyballer. “But I’m very, very proud to be a Knight.”
The Opening Ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 7 and the first day of competition for sitting volleyball is Sept. 9. The medal matches will be held Sept. 18.