Best of 2021: Top 10 inspiring stories from Tom Archdeacon

Tom Archdeacon has been telling the Dayton area’s best sports and life stories for decades.

In 2021, he introduced the area to huge stars and little-known underdogs, all with the care of a storyteller watching for details.

Here’s a look at Tom’s favorite columns from this year:

» THE ARCHIVE: Find more of Tom Archdeacon’s award-winning columns

Larry Connor: Businessman explorer

The CEO of the real estate investment firm The Connor Group is in the middle of his extraordinary adventure game, one that took him to the deepest depths of the ocean and, next year, is scheduled to launch him into space as he pilots the first-ever all private mission to the International Space Station.

Only two other people in history have gone to such extremes in inner and outer space and none has done so in such a short time span.

» Larry Connor on exploring ocean depths: ‘It’s a different world down there’

Amy Siewe: Python hunter

Let Siewe describe the question at the heart of this eye-opening story:

“She was trying to slide back into the swamp, so I jumped on her back and locked my hands behind her head. I dug my feet into the ground to try to keep her from moving, but she was strong. And big. I just didn’t know how big.

“That’s when it dawned on me. I was by myself and I was on the back of this gigantic snake. I kind of questioned my sanity: “What was I doing?’”

» From Homecoming Queen to python hunter

Jeff Camp: Battling boxer

Riddled by bullets and bleeding badly, he lay on the asphalt next to the Dollar General on Salem Avenue in Trotwood.

Jeff “The Nightmare” Camp – who’d been an amateur boxer of note here and now was a colorful pro known as much for his nickname and custom-made gold fight garb and mask as his 5-2-1 record – had been shot five times on Oct. 15, 2020, by an unknown gunman who had been sitting alone in a Chevy Equinox parked near the rear of the store.

Here’s how that kind-hearted assistant manager showed his fight.

» Left for dead, boxer Jeff Camp shows his fight

Wayne and Terri Embry: Legends for more than basketball

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Wayne and the late Terri – she died in August 2020 at age 82 – received one of Miami University’s most prestigious honors, the Freedom Summer of ‘64 Award, which is given annually to notable leaders who have set an example while championing civil rights.

The story of how they got there, and what role sports and a sense of purpose played, prove why they are legends of southwest Ohio in more ways than one.

» Miami to honor Wayne and Terri Embry for a life’s work

Herbert Chongwain and Mustafa Ibrahim: Immigrant dreamers

These former Belmont High School soccer teammates and immigrants from Africa launched the hip clothing store -- 48th Clothing – this year in the Northwest Plaza shopping center at 3285 W. Siebenthaler Ave.

Theirs is a story about the lessons and bonds of sports when the odds are against you.

Says their former coach:

“We always said these are skills and traits and characteristics that you can take all through your life.”

» Former Belmont soccer players dressed and blessed

Linda Waltz: COVID-19 fighter

“Miss Linda” to all those who know her is the beloved administrative assistant and “mother” of the University of Dayton women’s basketball program for the past 24 years.

Her seven missing weeks while unconscious and fighting COVID-19 are something her family, the medical staff who treated her and especially her UD family will never forget.

Her story includes a Jan. 7 moment that Neil Sullivan, UD’s vice president and director of athletics said “was probably the most powerful thing I have been a part of in my 15 years working here. It was truly amazing.”

» A complete miracle for the ‘mother’ of the UD women’s basketball program

Donnie Deaton: Hall of Famer, cancer fighter

Deaton is in the fight of his life after being diagnosed with terminal stage IV pancreatic cancer in October 2020.

But room must be made for softball.

A Dayton Softball Hall of Famer who is enshrined in the Legends of the Game hall of fame has a powerful story to tell about the inspiration we take from our passions.

» Softball is tonic for toughest time

Ba Nguyen: Combat pilot, inspiring engineer

The former battle-seasoned A-1 Skyraider combat pilot in the Republic of Vietnam Air Force made a daring escape from his country in 1975.

What he did when he came to the Miami Valley – eventually willing himself through Edison State Community College, Wright State and the University of Dayton while having an impressive 33-year career as a research engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson AFB and raising three children – is even more amazing.

» Local man who escaped Vietnam sees similarities in those who fled Afghanistan

Dan McCarty: Odds destroyer

His parents were told there was a 5 percent chance their son would survive.

Now he’s in his late teens, gets around by wheelchair and estimates that “I’ve probably broken about 300 bones in my life, but I don’t count fingers anymore because those breaks don’t set me back.”

That includes his role as director of baseball operations and recruiting coordinator for the Wilmington College baseball team.

» The heartwarming bond of Dan and Tony

Sister Mary Xavier: Hoopstar nun

She no longer owns a basketball, which once helped the woman once known as Sarah Schulze become a 6-foot-1 hoop legend in Ohio.

Now she’s Sister Mary Xavier, a 32-year-old nun with the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George. And while she doesn’t have all the swag that once came with her Ohio State basketball days, she does have a simple yellow rosary – a gift from a friend when she was teaching in Cuba – that she uses daily.

» Ex-Anna star’s hoops story turns heavenly

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