Five Things Alumni Need To Know This Week – Sept. 24, 2018

UCF Watch Parties

1.After a great game against FAU Friday, the No. 13 Knights are gearing up to face Pitt this weekend! If you attended our Indoor Tailgate, check out the photo gallery from the event. Speaking of Indoor Tailgates, we’re hosting another one this Saturday from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center during Family Weekend!

Can’t make it to the game? Our UCF Alumni Chapters and Clubs are hosting UCF Watch Parties across the nation – find one near you!

2.We’re proud to call Ron Hawks ’12 a Knight. As a crisis-management lead for Lockheed Martin, Hawks organized the defense contractor’s response in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria last year – and his time at UCF prepared him to do it.

3.Exciting news for our alma mater! A new collaboration with Microsoft will have a BIG impact for UCF students and the Central Florida community. Learn more about how UCF will participate in the Microsoft Flagship Schools program.

4.President Dale Whittaker has announced a series of campus conversations to share aspirations for UCF and how to make them a reality. The first takes place this morning at the UCF College of Medicine in Lake Nona. If you can’t attend in person, you can tune in to the livestream via the UCF YouTube Channel.

5.We knew our Knights were strong, but did you know they are strong enough to compete for Team USA? UCF student Allison Fleming joined Team USA for the World University Weightlifting Championships. Fleming emerged as the top American finisher in the 63kg weight class for the snatch event.

Pro Bowl

Courtesy of PWBA and USBC

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Aug. 3, 2017) – At 15 years old, Stefanie Johnson ’06 ’08MA cleaned tables at a Miami bowling alley for $5.15 per hour and the extra perk of free games with a very clear goal in sight – to one day make it as a professional bowler.

Today, Johnson, now 33, is a 13-year veteran of Team USA Bowling and a five-time World Champion looking to add another accomplishment on her resume at the PWBA stepladder finals Aug. 6 in her new home base Plano, Texas.

‘My life has revolved around bowling for as long as I can remember,” Johnson said.

Johnson was drawn to UCF as a freshman in 2002 because of the university’s bowling program, which had started a year earlier. Johnson competed for her high school bowling team and wanted to continue honing her skills under UCF’s head coach, PWBA Hall of Famer Pat Costello.

“I knew if I wanted to get to the next level, she could take me there,” Johnson said.

As she pursued her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and master’s in communication, she chose classes that worked around her team practice schedule in addition to spending extra time at the lanes on her own. It paid off. She was selected as a two-time All-American and NCBCA MVP.

But during her sophomore year, the PWBA Tour folded leaving the ladies no professional tour to compete in.

“I was devastated,” she said.

So she set her sights on the only other option there was: Team USA. She made the team in 2005 and has competed every year since, traveling all over the world to represent her country. As the reigning world champions, Team USA will head to Las Vegas this December to defend its gold medal at this year’s competition.

In 2015, the PWBA Tour resurged and Johnson claimed the honor of PWBA Rookie of the Year. After taking some time away from the game for motherhood to 3-year-old Levi and 4-month-old Kenzie, she made her 2017 debut in Orlando right where she spent so many of her college days at Boardwalk Bowl.

Courtesy of Stefanie Johnson

In addition to a successful day at the Orlando Open, where she qualified for this week’s stepladder finals that will air on tape delay Aug. 15 on CBS Sports Network, she also had some time to visit Lazy Moon and return to campus.

“I recall spending many afternoons by the Reflecting Pond completing assignments while soaking up the college life experience and watching squirrels run around everywhere. I had the opportunity to drive around campus and it’s amazing what the campus has turned into,” she said. “Once a Knight, always a Knight!”

She said life balance and family have always been a priority along with her bowling career, and she’s learning that to be true now more than ever.

“It’s imperative to have an army of support in my corner otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do what I do,” she said. “It’s certainly a team effort every time I am on the lanes competing and they are all with me every step of the way.”

UCF Alumnus Heads to Rio for Fourth Paralympics

Courtesy of USA Volleyball

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.