With a turnout of over 8,400 athletes in this summer’s games, there were more than a few star competitors considered for the honor of being named 2011 Athlete of the Year. This year, Bailey Atkinson, 18, of Topeka and Travis Conley, 27, of Mission are honored with this recognition. In order to be chosen as a recipient for this award, an athlete must show outstanding achievement and good sportsmanship both on and off the field of play by embodying what the Sunflower State Games represent, living a healthy lifestyle through participation in sports.
Atkinson, who earned three gold medals in the rowing competition this year, has been rowing for five years with the Topeka Rowing Association. She has earned over 150 medals, three of which were National Club Medals, and plans on continuing her career in rowing with a scholarship she earned to the University of Kansas. Aside from competing this year, Atkinson also proved to be instrumental in the success of this year’s regatta by preparing the boat house for the races and assisting with course control. “Rowing is not that popular in Kansas, so the fact that the Sunflower State Games has it as a sport is great, it gets the word out there and gets more people involved. In short it gives Kansas rowers another reason to get together on a great lake and have a good time,” said Atkinson.
After capturing two gold medals in the Jiu Jitsu competition, Conley, like Atkinson also switched to the volunteer side of the event, participating as an official. Overcoming the doctor’s prognosis that he would never compete again in high impact sports
after a shoulder injury, Conley has multiple tournament titles, including the U.S. World Team Grappling Trials in Las Vegas. His success has earned him a spot on Team USA to compete in the FILA World Grappling Championships in Belgrade, Serbia in September 2011. “The Sunflower State Games give all ages and all skill levels the opportunity to compete, which is important not only for competitors, but human growth and development in general,” said Conley, “I’m very proud to represent the great state of Kansas. I have learned so much about through my participation in State Games and am extremely honored and humbled.”