GANSEVOORT, N.Y. – The North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) announced its first two recipients of the 2016-17 NEAC Inspirational Award on Wednesday and Gallaudet University rising seniors Lawjen Ashmore (Fairbanks, Alaska) and Faye Frez-Albrecht (Canton, Conn.) were honored.
Ashmore is a member of the Gallaudet women's basketball program while Frez-Albrecht is a team captain on the women's swimming and diving program.
The Inspirational Award is given annually to a student-athlete, coach or administrator who has endured personal hardship that has led to bravery and dedication within athletics.
The duo now gives Gallaudet sixth NEAC Inspirational Award honorees since it joined the conference in 2010-11. Frez-Albrecht is the third Bison women's swimmer to be honored. Gallaudet's past honorees included former women's basketball head coach Kevin Cook (2010-11), women's swimmer Lisa van der Mark (2011-12), men's cross country runner Ivan Alfaro (2012-13) and women's swimmer Taylor Mickelson (2015-16).
"There are many inspirational stories within our athletics department. We take great pride in this NEAC award and we hope our stories inspire others across the world," said Gallaudet University Athletics Director Michael Weinstock. "Congratulations to Lawjen and Faye for being selected this year for this honor, it is well deserved."
Ashmore is a two-year letterwinner on the women's basketball team. In two seasons, she has compiled 158 points, 179 rebounds, 50 steals, 32 assists and 29 blocks in 44 games (21 starts). She is also a two-year letterwinner as a sprinter on the Gallaudet women's track and field team.
"I have to give credit and thanks to my former and current coaches and teammates for this honor. Not to mention, my family and friends for helping me throughout life," said Ashmore.
Ashmore has exhibited perseverance, dedication and independence throughout her entire life. Ashmore was born hard of hearing and with her entire family originating from China, her first language is Cantonese. She had an interpreter in school but didn't have one during her basketball seasons until her high school years. It was her JV basketball coach who informed Ashmore about Gallaudet. In the Spring 2013 she made a visit to the nation's capital and was sold on becoming a NCAA Division III student-athlete at GU. Her first year she focused on her academics before suiting up for the Bison in 2015-16 and this past year.
"Lawjen is one of the most respectful and selfless people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting," said Gallaudet women's basketball coach Stephanie Stevens.
"Since day one, Lawjen has been thinking of her teammates. She works extremely hard in the classroom and works just the same on the court. Everyone loves Lawjen because she is fearless and always has a positive outlook on life. She wants to better herself while also helping others to make the best of their lives. Lawjen is a special person and I am so honored to have her in our program."
Ashmore continues to volunteer her time on campus to help others. The rising senior is the 'spark' on the team and is a constant motivator for everyone around her.
"Lawjen is a positive role model for her teammates and her contributions to the Gallaudet community as a volunteer will forever be appreciated," said Weinstock.
Frez-Albrecht is a three-year letterwinner on the women's swimming and diving program. The deaf-blind swimmer joined the team with limited swimming experience but over three years she has made dramactic improvement in all aspects of the sport.
"Faye has met life "head on" when she could have easily sat back and allowed others to take care of her," said Gallaudet men's and women's swimming and diving head coach Larry Curran. "Her participation in any activity inspires others to excel, as she has, and everyone benefits from a relationship with Faye."
She has been a team leader from the start and her contributions to the program and team have been significant. Her leadership capabilities came to the fore front in the role she played in championing accessibility for the NEAC championship meet.
During her sophomore season, communication barriers caused Frez-Albrecht to be inadvertently disqualified at the 2016 NEAC Swimming & Diving Championship. Rather than reacting negatively, she stepped up as a leader and began a push for better accessibility for all competitors at the NEAC Championship meet. Due to her efforts and advocacy, the NEAC included Reaction Light Systems (RLS) at the 2017 NEAC Swimming & Diving Championship to signal the start of each event. The successful implementation of the light-based starting system at the conference championship helped to lay the groundwork for recent NCAA rule changes that will now allow such systems to be utilized at any intercollegiate swim meet. With Frez-Albrecht’s dedication and perseverance serving as a driving force, Gallaudet and the NEAC were able to be at the forefront of creating greater accessibility for all collegiate swimmers.
"I never thought that doing one small thing would make a huge impact on not only our team but also other teams and beyond," said Frez-Albrecht. "I am thankful for the hard work and support from the athletic department, NCAA, NEAC, swim coaches, teammates, family, friends and others that were involved in the change."
While positive change has already come from her leadership, Frez-Albrecht continues to create awareness for deaf and hard of hearing student-athletes. Since the implementation of the RLS and the recent NCAA rule changes, Frez-Albrecht’s story has been featured by a number of national media outlets including USA Today and The Washington Post.
"Faye is an inspiration, not only to her fellow Gallaudet athletes but to Deaf athletes across the nation as well. Her actions speak louder than words. I will always be grateful for her perseverance in making this possible for the next generation of Deaf athletes," said Weinstock.
Gallaudet's NEAC Inspirational Award Winners
2016-17: Lawjen Ashmore (Women's Basketball) & Faye Frez-Albrecht (Women's Swimming & Diving)
2015-16: Taylor Mickelson (Women's Swimming & Diving)
2012-13: Ivan Alfaro (Men's Cross Country)
2011-12: Lisa van der Mark (Women's Swimming & Diving)
2010-11: Kevin Cook (Women's Basketball)
The NEAC Sports Information Office contributed to this release