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.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Sept. 5, 2016

 

football-rev

1. UCF clocks in at 59th overall on Washington Monthly’s recently released College Guide and Rankings. The publication rates colleges based on “what they did for their country.” No surprise here that UCF ranked among the top 10 percent overall, second among Florida’s public institutions and 32nd among public national universities. This ranking pairs nicely with UCF’s standing among Kiplinger’s Best College Values where we are 36th among the nation’s public colleges. Go Knights!

2. Welcome back, UCF Football! The Knights dominated South Carolina State, 38-0, to kick off the season with a bang and deliver a win to Scott Frost in his debut as a head coach. Up next: UCF travels to nationally ranked Michigan (preseason No. 7/8) this Saturday for a noon matchup that will air on ABC.

3. Two scientists at UCF have discovered how to get a solid material to act like a liquid without actually turning it into liquid – say what?! This discovery potentially opens a new world of possibilities for the electronic, optics and computing industries. Score one for the smart guys!

4. UCF is still in the running for Big 12 expansion after the conference narrowed down its list of candidates by nearly a third of the pool to 12 schools, ESPN reported last week. According to the article, UCF, which has not commented publicly, is expected to make an in-person presentation to league officials in Dallas this week. The league has said it hopes to make a decision on expansion by the Big 12’s regularly scheduled board of directors meeting Oct. 17.

5. When the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games begin this week, UCF alumnus Chris Seilkop, ’92, will represent Team USA in sitting volleyball. Seilkop, a DeLand, Fla., native, is making his fourth Paralympics appearance. Learn more about Seilkop’s story on Tuesday at www.UCFAlumni.com.