Tiffany Skelton, a freshman in the athletic training program at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW), was presented with the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Volunteer Service at the White House in April. Skelton, a Wounded Warrior Athlete who retired from the U.S. Army after 13 years, was recognized for her service in the military, dedication to helping wounded veterans, and her participation in the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride that took her cycling across three states to raise money for veterans.
“Visiting the White House and being presented with this award was part of a five-day cycle ride that took us across Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland,” Skelton said. “The cycle ride gives us wounded veterans the opportunity to use cycling to overcome physical, mental, or emotional wounds, and gain confidence again.”
Skelton shared that she was not only presented with the service award by President Barack Obama, but she also met Vice President Joe Biden, and Robert McDonald, the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary, and she received coins from each of them.
“The feeling of reaching such a level of recognition for something I had done truly showed me that I am on the right track and accomplishing something that is deep in my heart,” she said. “Working with wounded veterans is my passion and something I have always wanted to do. Receiving this award let me know that my passion is in the right place.”
While at the White House, Skelton had the opportunity to high-five Obama while she cycled through the White House lawn, and she played basketball on the president’s court with his basketball.
“President Obama was so personable and humble, you would almost forget who you were talking to,” she shared. “When he high-fived me I said ‘thank you, Mr. President,’ and he said ‘no, thank you!’ He really made me feel like we are all his soldiers.”
Skelton’s passion for working with wounded veterans brought her to UIW in January when she felt prepared to begin working toward her college degree. “I had three schools in mind, but UIW seemed to be the most intimate and welcoming when I first came on campus,” Skelton said. “Being a veteran makes attending college a more unique process, but my UIW advisers were very open with me and supportive of my future plans to pursue athletic training to work with adaptive athletes.”
Michelle Beasley, coordinator of UIW Student Disability Services, said when she met Skelton, she saw her as a role model for all UIW’s Cardinals to follow on their own path to graduation. “Tiffany’s relentless drive and determination in obtaining her degree seem to only be matched by her kind spirit,” Beasley said. “This special combination of attributes will not only see her through to graduation day, but through her entire life.”
Beasley said the UIW Center for Veterans Affairs are second to none when it comes to actively supporting veteran students. “They make the process of utilizing veterans’ military educational benefits very simple so students can spend more time focusing on their studies,” Beasley explained. “They assist from the first step in the door to presenting them with a graduation stole to honor their service to our country as they proudly walk the stage.” UIW is consistently recognized for its work with veteran students.
Skelton’s strong belief in the mission of the Wounded Warrior Project, to help veterans see that no matter what type of wound they have they are still functional people, helped her to clearly see her goals being accomplished through the assistance and guidance UIW provided as well as the university’s Mission.
“Understanding the UIW Mission, and how it coincides with what I want to do, encourages me so much,” Skelton said. “It makes me feel like I am right where I belong.”
Beasley said she feels the UIW Mission makes such an impact on students because they are drawn towards UIW’s spirit of excellence and vision for the future. “Our Mission incorporates the university’s core values of education, truth, faith, service, and innovation,” Beasley explained. “Students at UIW develop an understanding that, as they embrace these core values, they can have a tremendous and positive impact on the world around them for the rest of their lives.”
Skelton said her future goals include setting up a program for wounded veterans at UIW, and one day working for the Paralympics. “Sports medicine is such a positive outlet for wounded veterans to be encouraged and move forward with what we are dealing with on a daily basis,” she said. “There are more than 1,100 veterans that attend UIW and I want to establish an adaptive sports club to motivate wounded veterans and keep them active.”
Skelton said, more than anything, she wants to share with wounded veterans and all those pursuing their dreams to go for it. “If there is something out there that you know you are destined to do, put your heart into it and go all out,” she said. “Once you start to reach your goals, you will look back at all the ups and downs and realize you were building and growing the entire time.”
Most recently, Skelton was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by the United States Armed Forces.
By Crystale Lopez