Congratulations go to Sonya Jaquez Lewis, Compete’s 2016 Female Athlete of the Year (AOTY). Kevin Brauer was Sonya’s co-president of Team Colorado (TC), the non-profit organization that serves as an umbrella for LGBT sports in the state. In his nomination letter for her he says of Sonya, “She leads; she plays; she loves sports.” She is also Compete Magazine’s first female AOTY.
Sonya’s love of sports and her strong commitment to leadership and LGBT community activism are all hallmarks of a Compete AOTY. It began in her teen years in her native North Carolina just as she was beginning to figure out that she was gay. When thinking about what she wanted to be when she grew up, in Sonya’s own words, “I wanted to be a scholar, an activist and an athlete. And why not?”
Why not, indeed! Sonya possessed all the early qualifications to meet her life goals. Already a good student, after being captain of her junior high basketball team, starting pitcher of her high school softball team and playing on several league-winning tag football teams in college, Sonya’s passion for sports eventually turned to tennis in her senior year at the University of North Carolina. Having won several singles tournaments in North Carolina, she earned the Presidential Award for tennis in 1992. And once she met Martina Navratilova at a Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tournament, Sonya realized she’d found her sport for life and joined the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA).
Recalling her high school years, Sonya thinks she used sports and scouting in high school to “feel comfortable with my newly-recognized sexuality.” But when she got to college she was the first woman to run for student body president in the almost 200-year history of the school. Her office run was based on her commitment “to reduce homophobic incidents that were occurring on campus and to fully implement the newly announced Title IX rules for female athletics.” She also founded the North Carolina LGBT Pride Marching Band in 1987 and the Durham County Women’s commission in 1988.
Eventually moving to Colorado, Sonya brought along her passion and commitment to sports diversity. According to former TC co-president Kevin, in 2007 the organization was in disarray. Calling her a “mover and shaker,” he writes that Sonya “almost singlehandedly saved Team Colorado from extinction.” From reactivating the organization’s 501(c)(3) status to helping LGBT teams and organizations host special events and enlarge existing programs, the organization has grown into one of the most respected umbrella groups for gay and inclusive sports in the U.S.
Working in 2010 with volleyball player R. Tony Smith (Compete Magazine’s 2014 AOTY), they launched SportsFest in 2011, the largest regional LGBT sports festival that featured 10 sports and hundreds of participants. That led to Out Front, a digital media network for the LGBT and allied community, recognizing TC as one of the most influential groups in Colorado.
In addition to encouraging many athletes to get involved and become leaders in their respective sports from local up to international levels, Sonya has been active with both the Federation of Gay Games (FGG) and the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA), the founding organization of the World OutGames. As an FGG board member Sonya worked hard in 2013 to combine FGG and GLISA to create a United World Games. Her motion came within one vote of uniting the two gay sports organizations. But she hopes that “eventually, we as leaders in the LGBT sporting community can bring the Gay Games and OutGames back together, thus uniting all LGBT athletes.”
Perhaps one of the best parts of Sonya’s move to Colorado, however, was meeting her tennis partner and now wife, Allison Lotspeich. As women’s doubles partners and members of USTA, Sonya and Allison have competed in tournaments all over the world, winning medals along the way. And in the summer of 2014 at Gay Games 9 in Cleveland, Ohio, Sonya achieved one of her personal goals to be the best doubles tennis player of her ranking in the gay sports world. Calling it a lifetime dream come true, Sonya won the highest award a doubles player can attain at a Gay Games, the double gold – the gold for women’s doubles with Allison and the gold for mixed doubles.
Sonya has successfully incorporated her early goals of being an athlete, scholar and activist into an integrated lifestyle. As a licensed pharmacist and published author, Sonya is also an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado. And the Boulder County Board of Commissioners appointed her to their Board of Health, giving her a dual opportunity to promote a healthy and fit lifestyle for all those lucky enough to come in contact with her.
We think Kevin Brauer’s assessment of Sonya is right on target – “She leads; she plays; she loves sports.” So please join Compete Magazine in congratulating Sonya Jaquez Lewis as its first female AOTY. She is a most deserving honoree!
By Connie Wardman
Photo by Katelynn Fortenot