Few sports fans were surprised when the Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews and Duncan were nominated for ESPY Awards in June, nor by the “Best Comeback Player” nod for the Bulls’ Derrick Rose.
Less familiar were the names of cyclists Greta Neimanas and Joe Berenyi, both of whom were nominated in the categories for best athletes with disabilities.
Neimanas, 27, was born missing her left arm below the elbow. She grew up in Chicago, graduating from Whitney Young Magnet High School in 2006, and first raced as a teenager for the XXX Racing-Athletico team (of which, full disclosure, I am also a member). She won her first national championship in 2008 and has since won 12 national championships and 16 world championship medals, three of them gold. She now lives in Annapolis, Md., and races for the Twenty16 Pro Cycling team.
“It was a complete surprise so when the email came in,” Neimanas said. “I was a little confused to be honest. The ESPYS have been kind of a pipe dream for a while but I never really thought would happen.”
Neimanas will have local company in her category: Kendall Gretsch, who in 2014 won a world championship in the triathlon, is a product of Downers Grove. (She now lives in Madison, Wisc.)
In the men's category, there's Oswego’s Joe Berenyi, 47, who lost his right arm in a 1994 construction accident. (His Twitter handle is @lefty68usa, natch.) He set a world record in cycling in the time trial at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, and at this year’s world championships he won two golds on the track.
Berenyi also competes—and frequently wins—against able-bodied amateurs in local road races and on Thursday nights at the Ed Rudolph Velodrome in Northbrook.
Neimanas and Berenyi both plan to attend July 15 ceremony in Los Angeles along with Toews, Keith, Rose, and hundreds of other sports luminaries. Berenyi says he’ll have his eye out for the Blackhawks players, but Neimanas would rather meet Little League star Mo’ne Davis and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah—“because he’s a horse and I’d like to see a horse on the red carpet.”
Online voting continues through the day of the awards.