18-year-old Alyssa Gialamas, a senior at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, defines what the Jim Corno Sr. Inspirational Athlete award is all about.
After being born with arthrogryposis, a disorder that affects ability to use one's joints and muscles, specifically for Alyssa in her knees, feet and jaw, she wanted nothing more than to be just like one of the other kids.
"As a child I was never told I could not do something. If I wanted to do it, we'd find a way to make it possible," she said in her acceptance speech Monday at the CSN Sports Awards. "My parents signed me up for swim lessons, and I fell in love with it. I would watch the Olympics on TV, but never thought it'd be me one day.
However, through blood, sweat and tears I was able to represent Team USA at the London Paralympic Games, and now have a chance to tell all the kids who are just like me that you can succeed. With a positive attitude and hard work you can achieve anything you want to. Everyone has challenges in their life, and I firmly believe that it is your attitude toward those challenges that defines you."
Gialamas, who will attend Loyola University in Maryland this fall, knows her work is not done, something she also echoed in her acceptance speech.
"This award allows me to be an ambassador for my family, my high school, my community and now the Chicagoland area," she said. "As a member of the US National team I believe in our motto, which is "changing perceptions on the way to the top," and I will remember that as I use my positive attitude and hard work to achieve future goals."
You can watch Alyssa's inspiring story above, as well as her entire acceptance speech below.