Jeffrey Reed Courage Award Bios

In 2001, publisher and editor Jeffrey Reed achieved the impossible. A disabled athlete with numerous skeletal deformities, and at age 39, Jeffrey pitched as a rookie for the London Majors of the semi-professional Intercounty Baseball League. In fact, during his entire lifetime, Jeffrey has beaten the odds, both as an athlete and as an internationally-recognized communications professional. You can read his life story to-date, Diamond Dream: Jeffrey Reed’s Inspirational Story of Hope & Determination here.

In late-2015, Jeffrey and his wife, Elizabeth, decided to recognize others who have achieved greatness, and concurrently to inspire countless others with his story and theirs by establishing the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award.

The Jeffrey Reed Courage Award encourages you to:

• Dream Big & Never Stop Dreaming
• Work With Mentors & Mentor Others
• Learn From Failure
• Give 100% At All Times
• Never Quit

Each spring, one Southwestern Ontario athlete is awarded the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award. awards this athlete with a $1,000 cheque, as well as a plaque at an annual banquet recognizing and celebrating his or her courage in sports and in life. The athletes nominate themselves with a 1,000-word essay. The annual winner is chosen by the editors of

Here are the winners of the annual Jeffrey Reed Courage Award.

2016 Chelsea Zavitz

2016 Jeffrey Reed Courage Award winner Chelsea Zavitz with Jeffrey Reed

The inaugural winner of the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award, Chelsea Zavitz of St. Thomas, Ont. has suffered multiple concussions, including a devastating head injury in 2014, and continues to live with lingering effects of those injuries. Whenever she hasn’t been able to compete as an athlete, Chelsea has coached and mentored young women in basketball, hockey and soccer. Today, she is an advocate for concussion awareness. A former Windsor Lancers soccer player, Chelsea will graduate with a Business diploma from Fanshawe College, and plans to return to Fanshawe to study in the Project Management program in 2019 and to play another year of OCAA soccer for the Falcons. In July 2018, she was named an OCAA All-Academic student athlete. Chelsea is also a member of the FC London women’s soccer squad. During the 2018 season, she tore her medial collateral ligament (MCL) and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in her right knee, and her right hamstring during a February 2018 indoor game with the Falcons. Yet she worked hard, returned to the pitch and continues to act as an outstanding ambassador for the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award.

2017 Ali Vlasman

Jeffrey Reed with 2017 Jeffrey Reed Courage Award winner Ali Vlasman of the Fanshawe Falcons

Mount Elgin, Ont. native Ali Vlasman was named Fanshawe’s female athlete of the year for 2016-17, is was a two-sport star in Falcons soccer and basketball. In September 2018, Ali was named a CCAA National Scholar Award winner. Earlier that year, she became the Falcons’ all-time points leader on the basketball court. Considering the obstacles she faced, it’s no wonder Ali was the 2017 winner of the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award. She was forced to overcome personal tragedy following an automobile accident, poor grades and a learning disability. But through mentorship at Fanshawe College, she later excelled in the classroom, on the hardcourt and on the pitch. As a second-year soccer goalie at Fanshawe, she helped the Falcons finish 6-0 and recorded five shoutouts, allowing just one goal. During her rookie year as a goalie, the Falcons finished 9-0-1. She was also the Falcons’ female athlete of the year in 2017. When the going got tough, Vlasman never shied away from adversity, instead welcoming challenges while showing incredible leadership.

2018 Danielle Austin

Danielle Austin with’s Elizabeth Reed

Western University nursing student Danielle Austin of Parkhill, Ont. has always embraced athletics. At North Middlesex District High School, she participated in basketball, volleyball, badminton and track and field for the Marauders, and also played minor hockey and soccer. In fall 2015, Danielle entered her second year of Pre-Health Science studies at Fanshawe College full of optimism. A member of the Falcons women’s soccer team, 2014-15 rookie of the year and an OCAA All-Academic athlete, she was enjoying the best time of her life. But that all came to a screeching halt in late- 2015, when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. After months of increasing her medication dose, and at the same time experiencing a decreased quality of life, her specialist recommended a different biologic medication. Danielle gained relief from the terrible disease in September 2016 through use of a new drug, but prior to its use, there was daily suffering for over a year. In June 2018, Danielle ran 63 KM from Grand Bend, Ont. to London, Ont. as part of her Kicking Some Guts One Step At A Time fundraiser for Chron’s awareness. She said she was inspired to make the run after learning about Jeffrey Reed’s own story of overcoming enormous odds. Still a competitive athlete, Danielle plans to help others with Chron’s once she graduates from Western. Like the previous Jeffrey Reed Courage Award winners, Danielle is an inspiration to us all.

2019 Claire Linton

Jeffrey and Elizabeth Reed award Western Mustangs women’s softball captain Claire Linton with the 2019 Jeffrey Reed Courage Award.

Claire Linton, 21, of Brampton, Ont. is the first Western Mustangs varsity athlete to win the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award. From 2015-18, the Mustangs women’s softball team captured four conference, four provincial and one national championship. And according to head coach Pete Lemon, Linton was a huge part of those winning teams. In fact, Lemon said Linton and her incredible story of courage inspired the entire team to greatness, on and off the field. There have been plenty of challenges thrown at Linton during her four years at Western University. Yet through it all, she exemplified everything the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award stands for, and proved to be a worthy winner of the fourth-annual award. Working as a camp counsellor before what was to be her sophomore season, Linton suffered a serious injury which would change her life forever. A torn calf muscle not only prevented her from playing that season, but it also proved to be a catalyst in bringing out her best traits: never shying away from a challenge; always facing incredible odds with dignity and grace; working tirelessly to beat the odds; and at the same time, giving back to others. Instead of feeling defeated and shying away from the Mustangs softball team, Linton fully embraced the challenge, and concurrently further embedded herself within the softball program. She relied on crutches for four months, put in countless hours of physiotherapy at Fowler-Kennedy Sports Medicine Clinic and, with much-needed moral support from her coaches and teammates saw results that would eventually see her return to the playing field as a much-improved varsity athlete. During her rehabilitation, Linton never missed a game nor practice, and was part of every Mustangs women’s softball fundraiser. Most of all, she was an inspiration to her team and an involved member of the community. During her sophomore season on the bench, the Mustangs had repeated their accomplishments of the previous season – conference and provincial champions, and second-place finishers at nationals. In 2017 during Linton’s third year, they swept conference, provincials and nationals, and Linton was presented with the Mustang Award for exemplifying the ideal values of a Mustang student athlete. “Balancing varsity athletics and being a student who tries to achieve an honours specialization in medical sciences, as well as a minor in psychology, has been challenging. It has taken many long days of work and dedication. But over the past four years, I have achieved more than I could have asked for,” she said. This past season, Linton was named team captain and the squad’s starting first baseman. She impressed with a .424 batting average and stellar defence. Each of her four years with the Mustangs, Linton was named an Academic All Canadian for maintaining an above 80 average in the classroom while competing as a varsity athlete. “Western softball is not just about achievements on the field, but also it’s about giving back to our wonderful, supportive community,” Linton explained. “Through the fantastic efforts of our coach, Dr. Peter Lemon, we have the opportunity to give back to the community and to instil a love of sport in local youth.”
*Click here for CBC Radio interview with Claire Linton

2020 Preston Swan-Merrison

Preston Swan-Merrison

Lucan Irish goalie and Monseigneur-Bruyè Catholic Secondary School student Preston Swan-Merrison, 17, is the 5th annual Jeffrey Reed Courage Award winner for 2020, and the first male athlete to win the award. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 9, Preston is a former football and hockey player with the Jr. Mustangs, a Jr. Knights hockey graduate, and currently a goaltender with the Jr. C Lucan Irish and backup with the Jr. B Chatham Maroons. He is also a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Youth Ambassador; one of 13 teens to receive the 2015 Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year award; a member of MP for London West Kate Young’s youth council; a two-time author raising awareness of Juvenile diabetes; and a fundraiser and champion for numerous causes including diabetes, epilepsy and homelessness. In addition to living with Type 1 diabetes, Preston has a learning disorder: Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), which affects up to five per cent of school-aged children. These students have difficulty processing the information they hear and are usually characterized as poor listeners when, in fact, their brains interpret sounds differently than those of others. “Diabetes has made me a stronger person,” said Preston, “and the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award is everything I believe in. I am someone who has learned from my many failures and challenges, and I have never stopped following my dreams, even when I felt like quitting was the only answer. Instead, I have been able to give back and find strength in others which, in return, has helped me in this journey we call life.” Preston’s life is only beginning, yet already he has accomplished what some do during their entire lives. There is certainly no quit in this fighter – a champion for Type 1 diabetes and so many other causes, and an outstanding athlete brave enough to stop pucks between the pipes.