Nichols, Prater Receive Wilma Rudolph Award
NORMAN – Oklahoma's Maggie Nichols (women's gymnastics) and Levi Prater (baseball) were honored as part of the 2019 class of Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award winners, the National Association of Academic and Student-Athlete Development Professionals (N4A) announced Wednesday.
The N4A Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award honors student-athletes who have overcome great personal, academic and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success while participating in intercollegiate athletics. These young men and women may not be the star athletes or best students, and therefore may not have been recognized by other organizations or awards. Nonetheless, they have persevered and made significant personal strides toward success.
In addition to Nichols and Prater, Madeline Banic (Tennessee), Sunkyu Paul Bin (Maryland) and Noelle Lambert (UMass-Lowell) were honored by the N4A.
"As we honor this year's N4A Wilma Rudolph Award winners, I reflect on the courage and determination of the Olympian for whom this award is named," stated current N4A President and Senior Associate Athletics Director, Academic Services of University of Oklahoma, Mike Meade. "Wilma's extraordinary character is a shining example to student-athletes who strive to exemplify the spirit of her legacy. As her story illustrates, she defied overwhelming odds after suffering from polio and enduring the long-term effects of this crippling disease. Facing the likelihood of paralysis, she not only learned to walk again, but also become the first female American three-time Olympic gold medal winner in track and field.
"As a result of her grace and fortitude, she established herself as one of the most decorated U.S. female athletes, and broke records and gender barriers. On behalf of the N4A Board of Directors and our membership, it's an honor and privilege to congratulate the recipients of the 2019 Wilma Rudolph Award. We are so proud of their accomplishments and excited to honor them in Orlando," he concluded.
N4A, which has been in existence since 1975, is a diverse educational service and professional non-profit organization. Membership of N4A includes academic support and student services personnel who are committed to enhancing opportunities for academic, athletics and personal success for student-athletes. For more information on N4A, visit www.nfoura.org. N4A is administered by NACDA, now in its 54th year, administers 17 professional associations, including seven for the separate business units that report directly to the athletics directors. For more information on NACDA, visit www.nacda.com.
Nichols is one of hundreds of athletes who have spoken out about the extensive abuse suffered at the hands of former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State team doctor, Larry Nassar. Nichols went public in early January 2018 as "Athlete A” – the first gymnast to come forward about the sexual abuse inflicted by Nassar. The abuse began when she was 15 years old, when she was a rising star on the United States national team, aiming for a spot at the Olympics.
Just days before the 2018 season began, Nichols decided to let the world know that she too was a victim, releasing her statement to the public. Despite the constant attention once coming forward, Nichols did not let it distract her from becoming the nation's top gymnast.
In 2018, she held the top spot in the all-around every week of the season, culminating in an NCAA Individual National Championship in the all-around. Nichols added two more national titles on bars and floor. She is the only gymnast to ever post two perfect 10s on every event, becoming the first and only gymnast to post back-to-back "Gym Slams” with a 10.0 on every event in consecutive seasons.
Nichols continued her success in 2019, defending her all-around championship while also earning an individual title on vault. She was a five-time first-team All-American, a two-time Big 12 individual champion and the 2019 Honda Sport Award Winner. Nichols also helped lead the Sooners to a fourth overall national title this past April.
When Prater was just a toddler, his life was changed forever as he sustained a catastrophic injury just shy of his second birthday. Riding a lawnmower with his father, Prater fell, and his right hand was caught under the mower's deck. He lost three fingers as just his pinkie and ring finger remained.
The injury made simple tasks, such as tying his shoes, a challenge. A bigger challenge arose when Prater decided he wanted to play tee ball. A normal baseball glove wouldn't work as Prater's attempts to field balls would jerk the glove from his hand. His parents stumbled upon a special glove that had a batting glove sewn in to keep it from falling off his hand. Prater used this until eighth grade when his hands were finally big enough to control a regular glove.
Prater earned Freshman All-America and Big 12 All-Freshman honors in 2018 after making 33 appearances and four starts on the mound, earning three victories. He set an OU freshman record in appearances and struck out 64 batters in 50.2 innings, holding opponents to a .169 average against him.
As a sophomore he moved into the weekend starting rotation where he has excelled, posting a 6-4 record and a team-low 2.93 ERA in 13 starts. He leads the team with 90 strikeouts and a .207 opponent batting average and is second with 73.2 innings pitched. From March 2-24, he allowed just one earned run over 26 innings across four starts. He has tallied double-digit strikeouts twice this season, punching out 15 batters in 7.0 innings against Missouri State on March 17 and 11 batters in 6.1 frames at Kansas State on April 27. He has pitched at least six innings in eight starts and has allowed one run or fewer six times.