Pictured from left to right are Mr. Jack Lengyel, Director of Athletics Emeritus at the U.S. Naval Academy and Chairman of the Academy’s College Football Game of the Year Committee, Mr. Michael Somsan, the 2015 Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias Courage Award recipient, and Mr. Phil Pangrazio, the President and CEO of Ability360.
Challenges are a part of everyone’s life. How we respond or react to them often defines who we are. That being the case, Mr. Michael Somsan should be very pleased with whatever description or depiction emanates from his story.
As the winner of the United States Sports Academy’s 2015 Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias Courage Award, Somsan embodies everything the honor is about: an individual who demonstrates courageous action in overcoming adversity to excel in sport. The individual should exhibit the qualities of courage, perseverance, grace and strength in sport achievement. Zaharias’s spirit and zest for life, as well as her courage, strength and achievement, are the qualities for which this award is named. The Babe’s fight to overcome life-threatening cancer and return to the winner’s circle has withstood the test of time.
Somsan received the Academy’s Zaharias Courage Award at Ability360 in Phoenix, Ariz., on Saturday, 24 October 2015, from Mr. Jack Lengyel, the former Director of Athletics at the U.S. Naval Academy. Mr. Lengyel has served the Academy in many capacities, including as a member of the Board of Visitors, a former Trustee, and as the current Chairman of the College Football Game of the Year Committee.
A first lieutenant in the Army from 1992 to 1995, Somsan saw his life change in a flash while trying to defend a young woman in a fight. The perpetrator he held at bay eventually left, only to return with a gun and shoot Somsan in the head. Only 25 at the time, he was left blind as the shooting damaged his optical nerves beyond repair, as 13 surgeries would attest. His military career was over. Instead of retreating, Somsan charged full-steam ahead, first into getting his law degree from the University of Arizona and the career that came with it, and now into competing in triathlons.
Inspired by fellow disabled veterans, Somsan pushed himself to take part in the most recent Tempe, Ariz., Ironman, an event that spanned 2.4 miles swimming, 112 biking, and a full marathon (26.2 miles) running. Requiring two guides to help him along the way for the biking and swimming portions, in order to keep on track, Somsan did complete the event.
The task was momentous as he spent the nine months leading up to the event training for it. Included in that regime were participation in a sprint triathlon, a regular triathlon, and a Half-Ironman. In following his own motto, “Never Be Defeated,” Somsan then completed two full marathons and qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2016. He also is targeting the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, that same year, which would be a homecoming for Somsan since he was born in that state.
An avid biker and runner for years, Somsan had never taken his physical activity to such extremes until 2013. Perhaps sparked by his professional success as an attorney, which saw him embark into private practice in 2012, and buoyed by the fact he had remained active through all life’s obstacles up to that point, Somsan followed his passion to push himself as far as he could.
After all, he had done the same with the rest of his life, testing the boundaries of fear and hope in moving forward academically, professionally, and personally.
Today, in addition to his athletic and legal endeavors in the Phoenix, Ariz., area, Somsan serves on several boards aimed at helping others, including AZ Bridge to Independent Living, a non-profit dedicated to promoting and supporting independent living for all disabled individuals. He also volunteers his time to various worthy causes while serving as role model to his daughter and others in his community.
The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, regionally accredited, special mission Sports University created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research, and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy visit www.ussa.edu.