ESPN presented the Pat Tillman Award for Service to Gretchen Evans during The 2022 ESPYS presented by Capital One on July 20 on ABC.
Author, athlete, and retired Army Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans was honored with the Pat Tillman Award for Service presented by MassMutual at The 2022 ESPYS, which aired live on Wednesday, July 20 on ABC. The award is given to an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes the legacy of the former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger.
Evans is a highly decorated veteran. After suffering a life-altering injury while serving in the Army, Evans founded Team UNBROKEN, an adaptive racing team of mostly veterans who have experienced life-altering injuries, illness, or traumas to compete in World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji. The non-stop, multi-day expedition competition sees teams traverse mountains, jungles and seas. The team’s creation grew out of Evans’ involvement with a number of veteran advocacy groups where she mentored and coached fellow veterans with stories that echo her own extraordinary path.
“Members of Team Unbroken have had numerous doors shut in their faces and have been told they could not participate in certain activities,” said Evans. “People saw us as broken due to our injuries, but we are not broken, we are UNBROKEN. We set out to be an example of inspiration and hope for the mixed-ability community. It is an honor to accept the Pat Tillman Award for Service, and I can only hope that this serves as an inspiration for others. We believe that disabilities do not define who you are or what you can accomplish. If members of our team can compete in the ‘World’s Toughest Race,’ other individuals with traumatic brain injuries, who are deaf, live with Type 1 diabetes, or face some other challenge of body, mind or spirit can overcome obstacles and achieve their own goals and dreams in their lives.”
After joining the Army in 1979 to help pay for her education, Evans quickly realized, as she says, military life was her calling. During her 27 years of service she worked her way up to Command Sergeant Major, the highest non-commissioned officer rank in the military. In 2006, she was deployed in Afghanistan when she was severely injured by a rocket blast, landing her in an Army hospital in Germany. When she awoke, Evans learned that she had suffered total hearing loss and a traumatic brain injury, which would end her military career. In the months to come, suffering from severe depression and PTSD, Evans struggled to find her footing, but then found a path forward through mentoring and competition.
Evans has since become a nationally known motivational speaker, and been inducted into the U.S. Army Women’s Hall of Fame and U.S. Veteran Hall of Fame – all on top of a military career that saw her win numerous medals and awards from the Bronze Star to a Presidential Unit Citation Medal, several Global War on Terrorism ribbons, and six Meritorious Service Medals.
“Gretchen Evans incurred life-changing injuries that ended her storied military career, but found strength to overcome through the help of No Barriers,” said Marie Tillman, board chair and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation. “Since leaving the Army, Gretchen serves on the boards of several veterans’ and educational organizations, fundraises for MaineVet2Vet, shares her story through motivational speaking engagements through Women Veterans Speak, and authored Leading from the Front. Gretchen’s commitment to serving after service mirrors the mission of the Pat Tillman Foundation as well as Pat’s example of leadership and passion for serving others.”
The Pat Tillman Award for Service was established in 2014 to honor Tillman’s life and legacy. Evans was presented with the award during The 2022 ESPYS in conjunction with the Pat Tillman Foundation, which unites and empowers veterans and military spouses as the next generation of leaders. Past honorees include U.S. Paralympic gold medal sled hockey player and Purple Heart recipient Josh Sweeney (2014), and former Notre Dame basketball player, Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (2015), U.S. Army Sgt. and Invictus Games gold medalist Elizabeth Marks (2016), and Purple Heart recipient and Invictus Games gold medalist Israel Del Toro (2017), Navy-Marine Commendation Medal recipient, Sergeant and founder of Team Rubicon Jake Wood (2018), former Marine and founder of the Kristie Ennis Foundation Kristie Ennis (2019), healthcare worker and boxing champion Kim Clavel (2020), and Manchester United football player Marcus Rashford (2021).
The ESPYS help to raise awareness and funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the charity founded by ESPN and the late basketball coach Jim Valvano at the first ESPYS back in 1993. ESPN has helped raise more than $165 million for the V Foundation over the past 29 years. The ESPYS are co-produced by Full Day Productions.
ABOUT THE PAT TILLMAN FOUNDATION
The Pat Tillman Foundation identifies remarkable veterans and military spouses as the next generation of leaders and helps them scale their impact as they enter their next chapter of service beyond self through academic scholarships, lifelong leadership development, and a global community of peers and supporters. For more information on the Pat Tillman Foundation and the impact of the Tillman Scholars, visit pattillmanfoundation.org.