WISH Awards 2017: Athletic skill, courage and leadership top the list

Updated: Sep. 25, 2017 at 5:32 PM EDT
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Mallory Comerford (Source: Steven Richard/WAVE 3 News)
Mallory Comerford (Source: Steven Richard/WAVE 3 News)
Haley Harkins (Source: Steven Richard/WAVE 3 News)
Haley Harkins (Source: Steven Richard/WAVE 3 News)
Alan Jones (Source: Steven Richard/WAVE 3 News)
Alan Jones (Source: Steven Richard/WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - From an athlete showing tremendous courage in adversity, to a Louisville swimmer making national headlines, and a local coach whose great respect and impact in women's sports has gained him endless adoration - they will all be celebrated Monday night at the 3rd Annual Women In Sports Honors.

We begin with a University of Louisville star, who like her good friend and mentor, Kelsi Worrell, has made a big name for herself in the pool by setting and even shattering records.

Mallory Comerford graces the Ralph Wright Natatorium for good reason.

"Well, it's been a whirlwind of a year," Comerford said. "It's been awesome."

The 2017 national champ and former Michigan Swimmer of the Year killed it in the 2016-2017 NCAA season with two ACC titles in the 100 and 200 free. One of the biggest moments came as Comerford tied a major player in the pool.

"I respect her so much," Comerford said. "She has changed the sport of women's swimming."

"She" is Olympic Gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who Comerford tied in an upset. Both touched the wall for first place in the 200 free, with the second fastest time ever.

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Comerford made Team USA, finishing first in the 100 meter free. In World Championships, she won five golds, breaking the American record in the 4X100 free relay.

"Winning a gold medal and standing on top of the podium and hearing the National Anthem, there's definitely nothing like that in the entire world," she remembered.

From the battle in the pool, to battling the unknown, former Assumption High field hockey star Haley Harkins was at the top of her game one day and couldn't walk the next.

"My leg started hurting," she recalled. "It was very trivial in the beginning."

Not long after, Harkins needed a wheelchair to get to her classes. It was a stunning life moment for Harkins. The Assumption sophomore had intense leg pain, and doctors had no idea what was causing it.

"It was devastating," Harkins explained. "Going through my whole life playing field hockey and being able to run, and then not  even being able to go out on the weekends with my friends."

Instead of feeling sorry for herself, Harkins supported her teammates and coaches on the sidelines.

"They are my family and so they accepted me," she said. "They accepted my new role on the team as a manager and it all worked out."

After more than a year of seeing specialists in Wyoming and at the Mayo Clinic, recovery began with treatment after doctors determined a virus had attacked her spine and nervous system.

These days, the freshman business major is walking the UofL campus.

Finally, making a mark in Kentucky softball for three decades is Alan Jones.

"I Showed up and went to a practice or two and it was awesome," he remembered.

Jones, who first coached the boys in 1988, focused his enthusiasm for the sport on the girls.

"I love coaching girls," Jones said. "Girls work so hard. They're so determined, 
and they give it everything they have, every day."

As the coach at Ballard High, Jones fell for fast pitch, where every pitch is a hit, steal or bunt.

"It's go, go, go the whole game!"

His Bruins won 15 district titles, two regionals and two state runner ups, but his coaching isn't about championships.

"I still keep in contact with my players from 1992," he said.

Jones loves to help them get to college, and they invite him to their weddings and their children's birthday parties.

"You know you've made that much of an impact in their lives and that says a lot and it means a lot to me," he said.

Alan Jones is the WISH Leadership Award winner. Haley Harkins is the Courage Award winner, and Mallory Comerford is getting the award for Athlete of the Year. All three tell us they are honored to be celebrated by their teammates and Louisville community.

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