By ADAM PRUIETT
FORT WALTON BEACH — Annika Sorenstam doesn’t need a golf course to continue making history.On Feb. 19 at the All Sports Association’s 41st Annual Awards Dinner, Sorenstam will break new ground by becoming the Fort Walton Beach-based organization’s first female guest speaker.
Sorenstam’s deep philanthropic commitments through her ANNIKA Foundation share a natural affinity with All Sports’ mission of raising money for local youth-oriented, non-profit organizations with an emphasis on sports programs.
“I am excited and honored to be selected as the first female athlete to speak at the All Sports Association banquet,” Sorenstam said in a statement. “The mission of All Sports aligns perfectly with my foundation’s mission — getting kids active and involved in sports. Hopefully I can inspire the youth athletes in attendance to pursue their athletic dreams just like I did.”
All Sports President Robert McEachern didn’t set out to make an unprecedented choice when he began his search for the guest speaker. His priority was to bring in a prominent coach or world-class athlete who “could help our organization further its community support of youth athletics and a speaker that could bring entertainment/celebrity to our banquet.”
McEachern looked at candidates from both genders. As much as anybody, Sorenstam fit the bill of what he was seeking.
In a 15-year career on the LPGA Tour, Sorenstam piled up 72 victories, including 10 major titles. The Swedish star also registered over $22 million in earnings, placing her atop the LPGA’s career money list.
“She has been hailed many years as the ‘Best in the World’ by many and some would propose as the best ever in her sport,” McEachern said. “She also brings a lengthy personal record as a professional athlete with unquestioned character, honor and integrity who has been chosen by many of America’s top organizations to represent them.”
ANNIKA Foundation president Don Ochsenreiter said Sorenstam’s involvement with the All Sports banquet had been in the works since last spring.
After making a commitment to All Sports, Sorenstam decided to bolster her impact in the community with the ANNIKA Experience. Billed by her foundation as a “celebration of active lifestyles and wellness education,” the two-day event on Feb. 19-20 at WaterSound in Panama City Beach will kick off with a celebrity golf clinic, followed by a match with soccer legend Mia Hamm and a meet-and-greet with Sorenstam.
“This is a great opportunity for a wonderful athlete and person who is passionate about youth sports to share her inspirational message with our sports-crazed community,” Ochsenreiter said. “I know her first visit to Northwest Florida will be great for her and for those who get to know her.”
McEachern said All Sports is planning to have some audience interaction with Sorenstam at its banquet.
“Annika’s accomplishments are awesome and would be record-breaking by any gender,” McEachern said. “The fact that she will be our association’s first female speaker only adds more intrigue to this year’s history making banquet.”